...et Willelm ad Pervensae Venit Andrew C CHAPTER ONE Doctor Natalie Barber finished up the final test on her patient, and switched the equipment off. Looking up from her clipboard to Maya as she made notes, she smiled. “Well?” asked the Psychon, hands folded, her voice a mixture of excitement and trepidation. “As near as I can tell,” said Nat, “both you and the baby are just fine.’ She watched as Maya slid off of the table, her smile a mile wide. “According to the ultrasound, the amniocentesis, and all of the genetic tests, the future member of the gens Verdeschi is as healthy as can be, Maya.” “I’m so glad,” said Maya, obviously barely able to contain her excitement. “With this being the first…I mean Tony and I…” “I hear ya, Maya,” said Nat. “I hear ya. In fact, I should have said members.” She waited a bit as the news sunk in. Maya’s face brightened even more, which was, Nat thought, quite impossible. “Twins!!” exclaimed Maya, her Psychon accent growing more pronounced the more excited she became. “You mean…” “Uh huh,” grinned Nat, and the two women embraced. “Two. And both of them read as A-1, Maya. Perfect.” Natalie had never seen Maya this…gushing, before. As Moonbase Alpha’s only resident alien, she had worked hard to both assimilate to the often confusing patchwork of Human ways, and hide her own often excitable emotions. Now, however, she was positively glowing. At this rate, Nat thought, they probably wouldn’t be needing the new power plant they were building. Maybe they could just take Maya, and wire her up. “Thank-you,” said Maya again, effusively, grasping Nat’s hands. “Tony will be so happy, Natalie.” “Well, when he gets back from that survey mission with the Commander, remind him that he’s due for his annual physical. Long overdue.” “And well he knows it,” said Maya. “But what with Helena being laid up with a broken leg…” “Yes, well I’m used to working the night shift, Maya. But it sure is more to my taste, dealing with the living.” She turned away, and filed the clipboard. “Natalie?” said Maya, coming up behind her, “Why don’t you and Nicholas have a child?” Almost at once, Nat’s shoulders sagged. “You both obviously love children, and you’re so good with people. You especially.” “We can’t, Maya,” replied Nat, the sadness heavy in her voice. She tried to control it, but there was no fooling Maya’s sharp senses. She picked up instantly on Nat’s emotions, and mentally kicked herself. “I’m sorry, Natalie,” she said, putting a tentative hand on the other’s left shoulder. “I…I never stopped to think. This must be awfully hard for you, when I’m…” “Hey, it’s the way things are, Maya,” she replied, turning around. “There’s nothing that can be done about it. Nick and I have come to accept it. That’s all that you can do. Accept what can’t be changed, and move on, Maya.” “I know. Like…like me, losing everything I’d ever known,” she sighed. “Home. Father.” “And us. Cast off from home because the physicists screwed up, and nearly blew us all to Kingdom Come.” She sighed as well. “Science triumphs again.” After Maya had left, Nat stood for a while, staring out the windows at the stars. In the just shy of three and a half years since she and the rest of the population of Moonbase Alpha had been blown out of Earth orbit, she and her husband Nicholas had been able to, with a few close calls, keep the truth of their identity a secret. Only Helena, Alpha’s CMO, and Alan Carter, chief Eagle pilot, knew the truth about them. Knew that she and Nick were, in fact, vampires. While the bio-synthesizer technology she and Nick had developed kept them sustained with the blood they needed, it nonetheless could not change the fundamental nature of their being. As a vampire, Natalie was as barren as Nick was sterile, and situations like Maya’s pregnancy, normally an occasion for rejoicing, only rubbed more salt into a wound that didn’t want to close. She and Nick, despite all, wanted a family as much as any two people ever had. But, she reminded herself for the nth time, pounding a fist on the sill; “Vampires can’t have children.” Alpha was presently just entering a star system consisting of two stars, both spectral type G-2, orbited by numerous asteroids and several impressive comets, but no planets capable of sustaining them. One little barren, Mars-like world, was all that there was. At present Tony Verdeschi, the Commander, and two geologists were on their way to survey it for its mineralogical potential. Assuming there were no problems, they would be returning to Alpha tomorrow night. In the meantime, she, Nick, and Drs. Mathias, Vincent, and Spencer were taking up whatever slack there was, with Helena being herself a patient. Called to one of the new sections being constructed to tend a minor injury, Helena became one herself when a ladder fell on her, breaking her left leg. And, Natalie decided, it was true! Doctors, especially chief doctors, do indeed make the worst patients. Smiling in spite of her low spirits, she logged her report on Maya, booked off, and left Medical Center, heading for her quarters. As she walked through the base, she found herself, as she did often of late, reflecting on her life since the night of her twenty-sixth birthday. The night she had come face to face with the Undead. Ever since meeting Nick, aka Nicholas deBrabant, Natalie had striven to unlock the secrets of the malady that afflicted him. Vampirism. Even now, that she herself had become one, she still found it difficult to believe in. All her scientific and medical training had left no place for mythology and folklore. Creatures who fed on blood, shunned the daylight, and lived forever, had no welcome whatsoever in such a worldview. Until the night one of those very mythological creatures had sat up on her autopsy table, and looked at her. He had stood, looking at her with his torn flesh healing in front of her, messily drained an entire bag of emergency blood, and declared: “I am a vampire.” Thus began the odyssey of Doctor Natalie Lambert, an odyssey that had led her from the M.E.’s office in Toronto, to Moonbase Alpha, and then, unwillingly, into the unknown. Why, O why, did she have to answer that damned ad for the Lunar Science and Research Organisation? Or, for that matter, the Coroner’s Office? Once at their quarters, she unhooked the commlock from her belt, and keyed open the door. From within wafted the voice of her husband Nicholas, his words in- Latin? “Agricola Salvio imperavit ut omnia explicaret,” said Nicholas, sitting at the dining table. Across from him, books and papers spread out between them, was Jackie Crawford, born a few months after Breakaway, and Alpha’s only child. Though not yet four years old chronologically, he was physically closer to nine, thanks to his temporary possession by a hostile alien malefactor, Jarak, who had transformed Jackie’s infant body into that of a five-year-old, in order to escape his pursuers. Once freed of the alien life entity, Jackie had seemed at first to completely revert to the state of a newborn. But within weeks, he was growing, and eating, at a tremendous rate, which did not slow till he reached the middle of his second year. Doctor Russell could find no reason for it, despite all her tests, so it was assumed to be some sort of aftereffect of his experience. His mother, also possessed by one of the aliens, showed no residual effects at all, save for unpleasant dreams. At last, the boy’s metabolism and cellular regeneration slowed to normal levels, but it gave Susan Crawford a half-grown son, rather than an infant, forcing her to adapt far faster than the average parent. Now that adolescence was in the foreseeable future, his mind needed to be developed to match his body, and various members of Alpha had undertaken to help in his education. Alan Carter tutored him in mechanical things, Victor Bergman and Maya in math and science, and several of the medical staff in their own particular specialties. Thank God, said one and all, quietly, that nothing of Jarak’s murderous and rapacious persona remained behind in Jackie. As for Nick and Nat, they saw to both history and anatomy, respectively. As time went on, the boy had shown a remarkable aptitude for languages as well, and had picked up a working knowledge of several. French, Japanese, Italian, a smattering of Psychon, and now Latin. Natalie stood, watching the two of them, as Jackie strove to repeat the words. He did so fairly well, then translated; “’Agricola told Salvius that…’” “No, not ‘told’, Jackie. Agricola…” “’Agricola ordered Salvius that he explain everything.’” “Right, Jackie. You’re doing splendidly.” Nick turned to see Natalie, and began closing the books. “Okay, kid. That’s it for today.” “What’s for next time, Nick?” asked Jackie, bright-eyed and eager as always. “The genitive, dative, and ablative plural of the relative pronoun qui. Study up.” “I will, Nick. And the history stuff?” “Uh…” Nick looked at the books. “Development of Feudalism. Charlemagne to the Battle of Hastings.” “Right, Nick.” He turned and saw Nat. “Oh, hi Nat. I read all of the stuff you gave me to. The anatomy of the respiratory system, and the alveoli. I’m ready for my test.” “Okay. Tomorrow, at 1200. How’s your mom?” “Good. She wants to know when you can come to dinner.” “Uh…we’ll let her know, Jackie. Goodnight.” “’Night, Natalie. Nicholas.” “So,” said Nat, unhooking her belt and running her fingers wildly through her luxuriant hair, “how goes it with the Class of 2018?” “As a matter of fact, Nat,” said Nick, clearing the books off the table, “he’s doing fabulously. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a student who was so bright.” He returned the books to their respective shelves. “He’s soaked up everything like a sponge. Anatomy, chemistry, astronomy, and all the history that I’ve given him so far. And the Greek philosophers, plus Thucydides. Plutarch. Livy.” “He’s sure a bright kid, that’s for certain, Nick. And he idolizes you, almost like a father figure.” “He is a little obvious about it, isn’t he?” smiled Nick. “Well, you did save both him and Susan from that Dorcon soldier. To him, you’re the next best thing to God around here.” Nick nodded, remembering. When the Dorcons, seeking to extend the life of their ruler by brutally dissecting Maya and taking brain tissue from her for transplant had taken over Alpha, some of their soldiers had wandered through the base, looking for whatever they could find. One of them had found Susan and Jackie Crawford, and declared that Susan was just too cute to ignore, and that both she and her son would bring a good price on some planet called BiiRek. Jackie had fought for his mother’s honor, and been powerfully backhanded into a wall for his trouble. Nick however, with his vampiric senses, heard Susan scream, and raced there with a speed not even a Dorcon could follow. He burst in, and before the lecherous trooper could raise a weapon, he clamped powerful hands on his head, and twisted his till his neck snapped like a breadstick. He dragged the dead soldier into a closet, and saw… That he had an audience. Jackie, still conscious, had seen him kill the Dorcon warrior. Susan as well. Had they seen his eyes, he wondered, as the dead Dorcon had? How to deal with this new wrinkle? Shortly afterwards, the Dorcon ruler was murdered by his own nephew in a power grab, and Koenig was able to retake the base from them, and destroy the Dorcon ship. Susan and Jackie talked before Nick or Natalie could try and blank their memories, but it wouldn’t be a problem after all. Neither Crawford had seen his eyes. Koenig had observed to him that he must be stronger than he looked, and Nick shrugged it off with his boyish grin. “But why teach him this?” asked Nat, eyes fixing for a minute on an old edition of Wheelock’s Latin. “It’s a dead language.” “He wanted it. I gave him some Cicero and Pliny to read, and he wants to be able to read them in the original languages. The next day he devoured St. Thomas Aquinas.” He opened their small fridge, removing a bottle and two glasses. “Whenever we do find a new home, Nat, there has to be some measure of continuity. Just because it’s a new planet doesn’t mean that we just dump our past.” “Oh I agree, Nick,” she said, sitting at the table and taking the proffered glass. “But why a language we no longer use in daily life?” “Like I said, Nat. He asked me. And the Romans, well, I’ve always admired them. To go from a bunch of thatched huts and goats to ruling an area bigger than the U.S.? No mean achievement, Nat.” He sat down and filled his own glass. They both partook of the red fluid, and let it roll over their tongues. The fruit of their labors, it alone kept them fed. And the Beast at bay. “But they were bloodthirsty conquerors, Nick. More like Dione, or the Dorcons, than decent people.” “If we are to avoid the mistakes of the past, we must learn it. Besides, I didn’t sweat under the ominous glare of Brother Gui, just to let it go.” “Brother who?” “Brother Gui. After my father died, my mother engaged him to tutor Fleur and I. He was good.” “But?” she half-smiled. “But he was a taskmaster, believe me. Aw hell, Nat, he was torturer. I can still remember that glower of his whenever I got my verb conjugations mixed up, or flubbed a famous quote.” He shuddered theatrically, and took another swig. He closed his eyes, and let the energy of his only food suffuse his limbs. “So. Get anywhere, today?” “No. We’ve all had to take up the slack with Helena being laid up.” “How is she?” “Grumpy, and a lousy patient. What doctor isn’t? So with that, the tests on Maya and Athena, and everyone’s physicals, I haven’t been able to work on the cure for nearly a week.” “Well, if the sick, twisted aliens will just leave us alone for a while,” sighed Nick, corking the bottle of synthetic blood, “maybe we can get somewhere.” “Amen to that,” replied his wife. “I was up to Litoveuterine J. I’m running out of alphabet.” “Then we’ll double up. How’s Maya doing?” “Aglow like that supernova that hit us,” said Nat, polishing off her dinner. “And asking a lot of questions, too.” “About?” “Babies, Nick. You know, girl stuff.” “I wouldn’t know about that sort of thing, Nat. What with Mother and Fleur. All their nattering. What would I know?” She stuck her tongue out at him. “But she did live with just her father, for years. She never had a mother to teach her, well, you know.” “Ah, my ever so delicate Nicholas,” she teased, and leaned across the table and kissed him. He responded, and before long the bed, and everything around it, was a total mess. “Who ever would have believed it?” said Nat at last, to all and none. “What?” “Us. Being what we are, stuck on the Moon, traipsing blindly through the cosmos. I mean, who would ever have dreamed of something like that, huh?” “Someone writing really bad fanfic?” he said, deadpan. She thumped his nose. “Okay, you have a point. But, at least you don’t hate Maya anymore, Natalie.” “No,” mused Nat. “No.” When Commander Koenig had returned to Alpha from the breakup of Psychon, Nat had barely been able to be civil towards her. After all, her father had ripped away the minds of some of their friends, and threatened them all with his mad scheme to restore Psychon to its former state. Koenig and his landing party had barely escaped the disintegrating planet, bringing with them a newcomer. Maya. Being a vampire did not erase the basics of Human nature, and Nat found herself hating Maya for Mentor’s sins. Even when they had learned the facts of Psychon’s final minutes, she found it hard to see anything good or virtuous in the alien woman. Natalie, it seemed, was a strong believer in the sins of the father. It was not until Maya had saved Nick’s life while on a planet survey that her opinion had changed. A few months back, Nick had been slated to take part in a survey mission. Unable to worm his way out of it this time, he went along, fortunately with Alan at the helm. Carter, Alpha’s chief Eagle pilot, was one of only three people who knew what he and Natalie were. Helena, having caught Nat "resurrecting" once was another, as was Victor Bergman, who had met Nick many years ago in another guise, and had at last figured it out. They’d landed on the terminator of the planet just shy of dusk, near a promising pitchblende reading, and gone about their work. However, the planet had turned out to be inhabited by a race of primitive, Stone-Aged simian creatures, several of whom leaped out of the forest, one hurling a huge spear at Nick. With blinding speed, Maya had reacted, blasting the attackers with her laser, sending them running back into the forest, as Alan pulled Nick out of the way. With her thus distracted, Nick pulled the spear from his leg, passing it off as just a flesh wound. None of the rest of the landing party had seen him closely, and the crisis moment passed. Natalie couldn’t do enough for Maya after that. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the planet turned out to be a wash. Not only was it already inhabited, but also the water, soil, and plant life were rich in sulpher, cadmium, arsenic, and most horrid of all, thallium. None of the plant life brought from home could grow in that soil. And, as icing on the cake, the planet’s orbit was frequently crossed by numerous comets and asteroids, making life there precarious at best. So they had bid goodbye yet once again, to another possible new home, sailing off once more into the endless blackness. But Maya had gained a friend. CHAPTER TWO Nat awoke, disturbed and agitated, in Alpha’s wee hours. Her dream, if dream it had been, had faded almost at once, leaving her unsettled. Next to her, Nick was tossing and jerking, as if deep in the throes of a dream of his own. As her vampiric “Master”, Nick had a real, if tenuous, psychic bond with Natalie. Though it was not entirely clear in her mind, she sensed enough of Nick’s emotions to know that he was upset, disturbed, even frightened. His hands clutched as if gripping something, and he muttered words in the Medieval French of his childhood, which Nat barely understood. Suddenly he began to thrash, his voice rising to a shout, then snapped awake, eyes and fangs… “Nick! Nick!” she shouted, grasping hold of him. He struggled a moment, then relaxed, his eyes at last focusing on her. “Nick, wake up! You’re here! With me!” He swallowed, and his eyes returned to their normal color. “Nat…Natalie.” “Yeah Nick. It’s me,” she smiled. “You okay? That dream of yours must have been a doozy.” “Dream,” he said, shaking his head. “Yeah, it was.” “Want to talk about it?” she asked, lying back down. “Well…” “He was in it, wasn’t he?” she asked. Oh that look. “Uh…” “You can’t use the boyish grin with me, Nichola. I heard you cry out LaCroix’s name. Loud and clear.” “Yes. Yes it’s true.” He sighed, relaxing. “I dreamed I was in battle.” “The Crusade?” “Yes. There was a force of Saracens there. It was this skirmish I was in with one of their patrols, near the Jordan River. 1227. They attacked us from ambush, and Jean-Louis, the man on my right, went down, then my squire. We barely made it back to our camp alive. We wouldn’t have either, if some Knights Templar hadn’t turned up just then.” “Were you wounded, Nick?” “Slightly. Nothing serious at all.” “So, how did Sweetie Pie get into it? He certainly wasn’t off in the Holy Land crusading for the Cross, not to mention in daylight.” “I don’t know, Nat. We were fighting like I said, then suddenly there he was. In armor, and…” He fell silent. “Nick?” “Oh, I don’t know, Nat. Dreams are funny. Here I was in Outremer with my men, then suddenly its nighttime, and I’m somewhere else. That, and the armor was different.” “Different? How?” “I’m not sure. It’s all fuzzy. But it is different, Nat, and LaCroix is there. And so is someone else. But…I don’t know who.” “Well, stop dreaming about LaCrypt Keeper, okay?” Nat gave him a tiny shove. “I’ll try.” “And tomorrow?” “Yes?” “Get rid of that picture of him.” Silence. “Nick. Ni-ick.” Snore. “Geez,” snorted Nat. “Crusader knights. Lord help us.” Commander John Koenig radioed back from the planet. While possessing little in the way of life, the planet was of value mineralogically. In an area of jumbled terrain, geologists Reilly and Sanderson had detected large deposits of rhodium, yttrium, uranium, copper, and manganese. While not in gigantic quantities, they were nonetheless free for the taking, and beggars on wandering moons can’t be choosers. Koenig ordered a full geological team to launch at once to take the greatest possible advantage of Alpha’s time near the planet, which, because of it’s rugged, unforgiving terrain, Alan Carter had dubbed “Outback”. According to Victor Bergman’s calculations, Alpha would pass within 70,000 miles of the planet at its closest approach, then begin to arc its way out of the system. As Nat worked in her lab, once more pursuing a cure for the affliction that she and Nick shared, she paused to look out the window. Outside, what had been once empty ground had become, gradually, a building site. A new section was being added to Moonbase Alpha, thanks to the wreckage salvaged from a destroyed alien vessel. The aliens, a robotic race called Cylons had been encountered a little over two months before, in deep space. One of their immense vessels, called a BaseShip, had been discovered wrecked and drifting in space, on a collision course with Alpha, and pulled into lunar orbit. Not long after, they encountered the Cylon’s mortal enemies, a race of Humans from a distant group of worlds called the Colonies. Apparently, the Colonies and the Cylons had had it out, and the Humans lost. With but a single remaining warship, the Battlestar Galactica, and a rag-tag fugitive fleet of dilapidated wrecks, the survivors were seeking a new home. To wit, the planet Earth! The surprise was great on both sides, and the Alphans, after some hesitation, had planned to abandon their peripatetic refuge and return to Earth with the Colonials. They could at last, go home! Naturally, that didn’t work out. Thanks to a traitorous Human the Alphans had unwittingly rescued, they were all betrayed to the Cylons, and with another BaseShip quartering in, Moonbase Alpha was in the biggest fight of her life. The derelict BaseShip was destroyed, the second retreated as did the Galactica, while Alpha drifted ever closer to the speeding blast wave from a supernova. Fortunately, the blast wave from the destroyed sun had attenuated just enough by the time of impact to merely deflect the Moon rather than pulverize it. Once it was past, and their scanners back on-line, neither the Colonials nor the Cylons were anywhere to be seen. But Moonbase Alpha had, once more, survived. And now the huge amount of salvageable wreckage from the enemy carrier was being put to good use. Enough sheer metal from its hull had fallen to the lunar surface to be salvaged and utilized for this construction project. Parts of Alpha never finished at Breakaway, or merely confined to paper, could now be turned into reality, along with repairs to exteriors of several of the existing structures. After the base’s completion, most of the construction equipment had been left behind, in special bunkers. After all, why ship it back to Earth? Now, it was in use again, and the workers in full swing. Along with the metal, the technology harvested from the encounter had already borne fruit. The air filtration and recycling plant was showing an almost 20% increase in efficiency, the waste and water recycling system nearly 25%. With that, and the abundance of icy comets in this system, Commander Koenig had, at last, relented. Since Breakaway, they had not been able to permit any increase in their population. Despite a number of deaths since leaving Earth, food, water, and air were all too finely balanced to risk it. Now, with all the advances, and the fact that there were some babies on the way anyway, that policy was out the airlock. There would be room, and resources, for the new Alphans. One above-ground building, never completed, was going to become the expanded technical section, where far more minerals could be processed than ever before, another would allow for a doubling of hydroponics and therefore expanded food production, and a third permit the storage of several hundred tons of new water, projected to be harvestable from this system’s abundant comets. It would also, Helena opined, boost people’s morale. With children allowed, the Alphans could see that they really had a future, something to plan for and anticipate. Something beyond mere survival to look forward to, to fill up their remaining days. Already, six women had come in for tests to make sure they could have children, she reported to a Command Conference with a smile. Which of course made Natalie sad. When she’d been mortal, she had, like a great many other career women, felt that “there was time” for children, somewhere off in that vague unknown realm called “later”. Now that she was a vampire, immortal, she could not, for like all vampires she was sterile. All the time in the world, and you… She shook her head, casting such lugubrious thoughts aside, and returned to her work. Still attempting to unravel the genetic code of the vampire virus, she was continuing to find it one tough nut to crack. Standard analytical techniques for viruses seemed to have scant results. In almost all her experiments, she either got nothing at all, or the virus was completely destroyed, leaving her with useless garbage. Only recently had she begun to get any meaningful results, and that was merely a handful of base pairs. Frustrated and annoyed by her consistent lack of success, she nonetheless, like the good scientist that she was, recorded what she had and moved on, trying not to remember all her failures. Her experiments had been wrecked at Breakaway, and she’d had to start all over again. In the sudden evacuation to Piri they’d been damaged, sent flying when Companion had taken pot shots at them, and ruined again in the violent wrenching away from Arkadia, not to mention various space warps. The most recent was when Carolyn Powell (Nat paused to swear), in using her newfound psychic powers to eliminate her romantic rival Sally Martin, had bulldozed one of the labs in the process. Guess which one? So, Nat was trying it again, but with some of the medical technology gleaned from the Colonials, she was gradually burrowing deeper into the horrid little bug that made she and Nick what they were. And, with it, she had been able to produce Litoveuterine I, another variant of the synthetic hormone that had, once, seemed to offer a cure for Nick’s vampirism. Type B had, however, produced bizarre and unforeseen side effects, quickly turning Nick into a paranoid junkie. The newer variants did the job as well, but none were entirely free of dangerous side effects. Like Type I. It not only shut down the anomalous Transfer RNA sequences in Nick’s cells, it actually caused the virus itself to break open, disintegrating completely. Victory! Nat had thought. Well, not quite. Not only did the new drug, as they had hoped, kill the vampire bug, but it also destroyed the cells that produced certain neurotransmitters in the brain, leaving the nervous system devastated. Not, Natalie had decided, the sort of mortality that they were looking for. So, chuck Type I, and go on to J. As she pondered, trying to come up with yet another new approach, something began to tug at her mind. No, someone. What… LaCroix? For a moment, her mind was filled with thoughts of Nick’s vampire Master, back on Earth. Why? She hadn’t given him a moment’s thought in ages. She thoroughly despised him. Why in Heaven’s name… Then, just as suddenly, he was gone, as if someone had turned off a light. No trace of him at all. Nothing. She concentrated, feeling along her psychic bond to Nick. Yes. He had felt it, too. She could sense the disturbance in his mind. He had dreamed of LaCreep, last night, and now this. Was there a connection? She looked up, as the door slid opened. It was Maya Verdeschi. Nat glanced at her watch. Ouch! Was it really that late? End of shift? Lord. “Maya. Hey, what’s up?” she asked, tidying up her area. “Oh, nothing much,” said the Psychon. “It’s the end of watch, and Tony won’t be back for another couple of hours yet. Join me in the cafeteria, Natalie?” Nat’s initial impulse was to reply in the negative, but seeming to be normal was the key to survival. The two women went to the cafeteria, and while Maya had a light salad, Nat had an herbal tea, one of the few beverages that didn’t disagree violently with her vampire physiology. As usual, she told Maya that she wasn’t really all that hungry. Maya it seemed had no particular topic in mind, just wanted to natter. Since deciding that she was okay, Nat had found the Psychon to be a mine of information on virtually every topic under whatever sun they were close to. She especially liked hearing tales of what Psychon had been like, before its orbit had shifted, and it had begun to die. For her own part, Maya liked tales of Earth, and enjoyed hearing about Nat’s days in the Coroner’s Office in Toronto. Except towards the end, Psychon had had little crime, so the use of science to aid in the search for criminals fascinated her. Psychons don’t have fingerprints either, Natalie discovered, so she had to explain. But she liked it. She was, after all, still the same Natalie listed on her birth certificate. Unlike Nicholas, she had no need to lie about most of her life, having been a vampire for only a few years. She’d signed on to Alpha in an attempt to pursue her researches in Man’s most advanced scientific facility, and to get as far away as possible from the Enforcers, the dreaded vampire police. Boy, had she ever. As she talked, answering Maya’s questions about what Alpha had been like before Breakaway, and her own part in trying to figure out what was killing the astronauts of the Meta Probe, she found herself missing Earth powerfully. She longed for the green fields and blue skies, the sun on her face, and the wind in her hair. She even found that she still missed Sydney, her cat! Now there was an intelligent life form! Maya, it seemed, had had a pet as well, as a little girl. Called a s’reth, it had resembled the Earth cat, but had had long coiling hair, a prehensile tail, and had been marsupial in its anatomy. She had named it Dorzak, after her father’s poet friend, much to Mentor’s umbrage. Then, Nat got really interested. Psychon, it seemed, had had vampires. As a scientist, Maya was most loathe to believe in things that she could not quantify. But the conversation had strayed into the area of religion and the spiritual, and she told Nat of the rew, those folk who, though dead, did not rest, but from fear of the sun haunted the darkness, seeking fresh, warm blood so that they might live forever. “Really?” asked Nat, deadpan. “We had a legend like that back home.” Oh shit, Nat, why did you say that? Dumb! “You did? What were they called, Natalie?” “Vampires,” said Nat, wondering just what Maya would think if she knew what was sitting two feet from her, and beginning to feel hungry. “Oh do tell me,” said Maya, leaning close, eyes bright. “I always liked ghost stories and such, when I was little. My uncle would often tell me ghost stories at bedtime, till Mother made him stop it.” Smart woman, thought Nat. Squaring her mental shoulders, she began, unfolding the legends to Maya, and listening to the Psychon version in return. She was trying to come up with an excuse to cut it short and go, when Nick entered. “Ah, Nicholas,” said Maya, “Natalie has been telling me about some of your Earth legends and folklore.” “So I heard,” replied Nick, forcing a smile. “And they had vampires on Psychon?” He looked from her to Natalie. “We had a very similar legend.” Her commlock beeped. “Yes?” It was Tony, less than a minute from touchdown, and she took her leave of the Barbers to go and greet him, leaving them alone in the room. “You see the way she tore out of here? You’d think she and Tony were a couple of teenagers who just discovered hormones,” said Natalie. “I noticed. Now…” “She was just talking about legends, Nick. I let nothing slip.” “You’re right, Nat. I guess I’m overreacting. 800 years of skulking does tend to make one a little edgy. So, they had it too, eh?” “Yes, and I found out one interesting point. One that I’m sure will be of interest to you.” “Oh?” he asked, as they left the cafeteria. “And that is?” “Some people, she said, were immune to the vampire’s bite.” CHAPTER THREE It was indeed interesting, but for the moment all thoughts were directed towards the new planet. The initial geological report was, it seemed, in error. The lonely planet fairly abounded with goodies, and the wish lists from the various departments got predictably longer. And, it turned out, the planet was not quite as lifeless as they had at first thought. The bulk of the planet’s atmosphere had, so it appeared, been blasted away by an asteroid impact. And quite recently, too. Sometime within the last three or four hundred years, according to the sensor data. In a few low-lying places, there was however still sufficient air pressure for liquid water to exist. And in one of those deep crevices they found it, a deep pool heated by geothermal energy. They also found life. A deep, deep hole, where steamy water gushed from the fissures, the pool filled with fish and algae. “It’s incredible,” said Dr. Ed Spencer, scanning the area. “This algae has many of the properties of species back home, Commander.” “Is it dangerous, at all?” asked Koenig, up to his ankles in the hot fluid. “Not that I can see so far, Commander. I’m going to take some samples back to Alpha for a more complete analysis.” “Do it.” He looked down into the pool. “What about the fish?” “I’m no expert on ichthyology, Commander, but I used to fish a lot, as a boy. They look a lot like carp of some sort. I’d like to take some of them back to Alpha, as well.” “Okay, Ed, but be careful. At the first sign of anything dangerous, I want everything destroyed.” “Right, Commander.” As Ed gathered up his specimens, Koenig looked first at the geologists cutting ore in the back of the cave, then up through the roof. This world’s sky was red, a darkish red, and reminded him of Mars, with its dust and winds. For a moment, he let his mind wander back there, and wondered how the colonists had fared. Had they survived the catastrophe, or had they been cut off from Earth completely in the aftermath of Breakaway? Had they been able to go ahead with the Mars Terraforming Project, or had they perished? He shook his head, and returned to the present. He climbed up out of the crevasse, towards the surface, and stood there a moment, surveying the desolate landscape. Red dust and rocks for as far as the eye could see. Directly ahead, the planet’s two suns were dropping close to the horizon, but it would be a while till dark. This planet rotated once every 39.44 hours, and it would be at least another six hours till sunset. A few degrees to his left one of the Eagles rested, its crew busily extracting minerals. He turned to the right, and there on the horizon, still little more than a bright speck, was Alpha, drawing closer to Outback with every breath. He hoped they would have the time to fill as many stockings as possible, but with so much stuff… “John,” came Victor’s voice over his helmet radio. “Yes?” “Could I see you?” “On my way.” Koenig took one of the moon buggies, and rode the four miles or so over the rough terrain towards Eagle 13, where Victor was. Inside the Eagle, Victor sat, perusing several mineral samples, and artifacts. “Good Lord,” said Koenig, as he took them in. Fragments of glass, a piece of plastic, an iron pipe, and a skull, lay on the bench. “Relics?” “Yes. Reilly’s team found them, not an hour ago. We were looking for minerals and life, John, not ruins. This whole area is littered with ruins. He switched on a screen. “As you can see from the orbital scans Alan and Athena are sending us, the planet’s covered with them. Most of them buried under the sand and dust.” “How old?” asked Koenig, studying the skull. It looked very Humanoid, in appearance. “It’s preliminary so far, but it looks like no more than a few hundred years ago. This planet was alive, John. Seas, rivers, cities. Then…poof.” He put up another graphic. “We’ve scanned an impact site, on the far side, in the Southern Hemisphere. A basin nearly the size of Australia. That looks to have done it.” “Not surprising, with all the comets and asteroids crossing this planet’s orbit,” replied Koenig. “And in this light gravity…” “Only 41.8% of Earth’s, John.” As he spoke, the ground beneath them trembled slightly. “Uh oh.” “How…” Koenig began. “Only a 3.1, John. And quite deep, from the geoscan. Over four miles down. Alpha’s getting closer.” “Well, this civilization and its mysteries are something we don’t have either the time or the resources to probe, Victor. We’ve got to gather up as much as we can while Alpha’s within range.” “I agree, John. But there may be another problem, looming.” “What?” “With Alpha passing this close, there’s a high probability of serious moonquakes. Possibly quite large ones. I’ve been running simulations, but I wanted to tell you first, rather than put it over the speaker.” “When will you know?” “Impossible to say. But I’d recommend taking precautions, on Alpha.” “I’ll call Helena.” He looked at Victor, eyes glued to another screen. “What?” “Another anomaly, John.” “What?” “This planet’s magnetic field.” “What about it?” “Well, a planet this small, and with this slow a rotational period shouldn’t have much of one. But it does, and it’s as strong as Earth’s.” “I agree that’s a bit odd, but why is that a problem?” “Well, I’m not sure that it actually is, but scans show the field isn’t stable. It fluctuates. From paleomagnetic evidence in the rocks, it sometimes increases violently, and…” Victor turned back to the computer, and switched graphics. “It also flips polarity.” “And Alpha will be passing well within the field,” said Koenig, studying the screen. “And if that weren’t enough,” said Victor, “the evidence shows the core and the rest of the planet do not rotate at the same rate. Alpha will be passing close enough to exert considerable gravitational stress on the crust.” “So, what’s your prognosis?” “Can’t say I have any, John. I know how badly we need the minerals, but with the kind of quakes Alpha may trigger, it might be dangerous to have this many teams down here on the surface at one time.” “Well, then let’s just pray that the planet stays quiet, while we’re here. We need those minerals.” “Not to mention the water, John. I’ve looked at Ed Spencer’s preliminary report,” Victor picked up a hardcopy, and ran his eyes over it, “and the water in that cave is nearly free from bacteria, and the mineral content is a lot like spring water, back home. He’d like to fill the tanks, and augment our supply on Alpha.” “Alright,” agreed Koenig, “go over his data with Helena and Maya. If they concur, go for it.” “Right, John.” CHAPTER FOUR Back on Alpha, in what had once been one of the base’s nuclear generating stations, Nick and Ouma were running final checks on the air seals. All were nominal, and slowly oxygen cracked form the ice of one of this system’s innumerable comets was pumped into the chamber. Both men checked their pressure gauges, watching as the numbers slowly crept up. This facility, once completed, was going to be Moonbase Alpha’s newest power plant. Ever since the bizarre possession of the late and still lamented Anton Zoref by an unknown non-corporeal life-form had resulted in the destruction of one of Alpha’s nuclear generating stations, Alpha had had to rely upon the remaining two, rather than the original three. The plant had been deemed far too heavily damaged to be repaired, and after decontaminating it as best as possible under prevailing circumstances, it was sealed off, and abandoned. Massive storage batteries below, and highly efficient solar energy collectors positioned all over the lunar surface helped to fill the shortfall at normal times, but in emergencies Alpha’s power was stretched to the limit. If this current plan worked, however, that would be a thing of the past. One thing gleaned from Alpha’s encounters with the brutal Cylons was that their gargantuan BaseShips were not powered by any conventional sort of fuel. Though they possessed backup engines, their main mode of power was what had been known to theoretical physicists on Earth as “zero-point” energy. Using equipment salvaged from the destroyed BaseShip, data from her computers, and the aid of the Colonials stranded on Alpha, they were about to tap into that same, virtually limitless source of power. Victor and Maya had computed and calculated ad infinitum, enlisting the aid of Athena, Greenbean, and Bree, the stranded Colonials, who contributed all they knew of Colonial science to the project. Alpha’s need of more energy had been made brutally clear by recent events, and they were close to exhausting their supplies of enriched uranium for the two remaining fission reactors. Nick looked up from his pressure gauge, to survey the conduits and coils that made up the core of the new system. In all his travels with Alpha, he’d never seen technology like this, and he wondered if even Victor and Maya really understood it all. Even with his vampire-perfect memory, and well above-average intelligence, he wasn’t sure he did either, even after immersing himself in both physics and electrodynamics the last couple of years, after Koenig had decided that they could not afford to specialize any longer. A light on his console went green, and he and Ouma popped their helmets. The vast chamber was now habitable once more, and as Ouma began running checks, he opened the hatch. Jim Haines and several of the guys from engineering came through, hauling crates of equipment, followed by Ben Vincent with the First Aid gear, ready to be mounted on the bulkheads. “So, how did it go?” asked Natalie later, in their quarters. “Great, so far. All the Cylon equipment, plus the stuff from the ship John and Tony brought through the space warp are interfacing well with our own.” He took a long drink. “We should be able to run an initial power test in a day or so. And if it works, it’ll put out more than triple the power of all three original reactors, Nat. And no more radiation hazard, no more atomic waste.” “Sounds good to me, Nick. I’ve never liked nuclear power.” “Beats polluting with coal and oil, Nat. No carbon monoxide.” “Uh,” she merely grunted. “How’s Helena? Back on her feet?” “Uh huh. We finally got that bone-welder on-line. Nick, it’s incredible. It fused the tibia in seconds. It was almost like watching one of us healing. It’s actually stronger than it was before.” “You’re kidding.” “Uh uhhh. And some of their drugs? Incredible, Nick. They almost make our pharmacology look like something out of…ancient Sumer or something.” “Anything that might help us, Nat?” “Maybe. The Colonies’ level of genetic and bioengineering is eons ahead of ours, Nick. I’m studying it, hoping that maybe we might find a new approach to our problem.” “Great. With all this new technology, maybe we’re finally closing in on it.” “I sure hope so, Nick,” said Nat. She doffed her uniform jacket, and sat down. “I want to walk in the sun again, Nick. I want to see bright flowers, waving in a green meadow. Taste real food. And…” “And?” “Well, I…I”, she turned to look him in the eyes. “I want a baby, Nick.” “Nat, you know that neither of us…” “I know, I know Nick. It’s just…well, with Maya and Athena being pregnant…It just…” She shook her head, her shoulders sagging. “I’m sorry, Nick.” She started to cry. “I know Nat,” he said, sitting next to her, wrapping her in his arms. “I want that every bit as much as you do.” He sat there, gently rocking her till it passed, and wondered what men since Adam have wondered, through all the eons. Why do they cry? Next morning as he dressed, Nick looked out their window. Already, Outback was visible low on the southern horizon, about half the size of a pea held at arm’s length. There was a beep, and he picked up his commlock. It was Jackie Crawford, and Nick beeped him on in. “Tot libros emisti, ut vix eos portare posses,” he said by way of greetings, as Jackie entered, arms piled high with books. He paused as he set them down, working through that one. “I didn’t want to forget anything, Nick,” said the boy, looking up at him. “Doesn’t look like you did, Jackie,” said Nick, looking the stack over. “Oh. By the way.” “Yes?” “Serius venisti!” he said, glowering, pointing a finger at his tardy student. “Fessus sum, Magister!” replied Jackie, and Nick laughed! Oh, the idolization! “The second oldest excuse, Jack. I remember using it when I was about your age.” “Did it work?” asked Jackie hopefully. “Hell, no,” said Nick, for a moment recalling the stern and unbending Brother Gui. “Not for a second.” “You said second oldest, Nick.” “Well, since there aren’t any dogs on Alpha, nothing is likely to have eaten your homework.” He picked up a sheet, examining Jackie’s work. “Ready?” “Ready.” “Good, kid. Let’s get to it.” “But Brother Gui,” said Nicholas, wishing yet again that his feet could touch the floor, “why do I have to learn this?” “It is your mother’s wish, Master Nicholas,” replied the monk, sternly. “But why?” whined the eight-year-old Nicholas. “I don’t want to! It’s just a dead language!” “WHAT?” squeaked Brother Gui, in shock and outrage. “DEAD? You dare call the language of Holy Writ dead? The tongue of Holy Mother church, dead? Foolish, impudent boy!!” Gui picked up a switch, and swatted Nick with it. “You would do well to learn to guard your tongue, whelp!” It would have done Gui well to remember a seminal point of military science: don’t ignore your rear flank. “Don’t you hurt my brother!” cried Fluer, Nick’s sister, throwing an inkwell at the monk. Momentarily caught off-guard, he turned, and Nick grabbed the switch, turning it on his tormentor, lashing him repeatedly with it. The wiry little man fell off his stool, and Nick hit him again and again… Until a huge meaty hand grasped his little one, wrenching the weapon away, and pulling him to his feet, then off of them. Nick turned as best he could, and found himself staring into the bewhiskered face of Dagobert, his late father’s castellain. All 6 foot 7 inches, 290 pounds of him. “Let me go!” demanded the boy, but Dagobert did no such thing. He thrashed Nicholas soundly, and sent him along to his room. Fleur he did not touch, but sent off as well. “Nick? Nick?” said Jackie, and he returned to the present, centuries, and parsecs, from Castle deBrabant. “Hhmm? What?” “I said, did I get this right?” He handed over a practice sentence, and his attempt at translation. Nick studied it a moment. “Mostly, but remember to introduce a negative clause with ut, then follow it up with a non, or nemo. Whatever.” “Right,” said Jackie, making a note in the margin of his paper. “Nick smiled at the boy, again recalling his own school days. How he had hated Brother Gui, but resolved that no mere peasant was going to outdo him, a nobleman’s son! He buckled down, he studied his butt off, and he learned. In fact he learned so well that within a year his skills surpassed those of (heh heh!) Brother Gui, much to the delight of his mother, Fleur, Dagobert, and even the Abbot! Though not, of course, Brother Gui. His reminisce was interrupted by a sudden, sickening feeling of dread. He straightened up and looked around the room. His quarters seemed safe, and he could still sense Natalie through their link. But… “Nick?” asked Jackie. “Nick? Are you okay?” “I’m…I’m fine, Jackie. Go on with the next lesson. I’ll be right back.” He got up and left his student, heading for the can. Once there, he felt it again-a sudden chill, a sickening dread. No, not dread. A vile, cloying evil, all around him. He felt as if were being submerged in it, as if evil were a sludge one could fall into. He fell to his knees, heaving, unable to draw breath. Nothing came up, but he wretched again. Then, in his mind’s eye, he saw him. LaCroix. His Master. His tormentor, standing naked before a fire, his eyes… Nicholas recoiled at the image, even as the cloud of evil seemed to thicken about him. It was like the assault from the Darkness he’d experienced at Vanderwal’s. As if he were being eaten up by pure evil. So he did the only thing that came to him. Vampire though he was, he prayed. “In nomini Parti, et Fil…” “He got no further, before the choking, suffocating miasma of evil lifted off him. Suddenly it was gone. His vision cleared, the horrible pressure on his body was gone, and he could breathe once more, drawing in huge lungfulls of air. For a moment he reveled in the coolness of the floor, then passed out. Jackie looked up from his lesson, and wondered how Nick was. He’d been in the john a long time, and Jackie needed to use it himself. Feeling a tad bored, he got up and looked around the room. Nick and Nat sure had a strange taste in décor, he thought, studying the walls. Most quarters on Alpha were utterly bland, just the basic white of the original construction. His mom, for instance, had a potted plant or two, some pictures of Earth, and one of his late father, but that was all. But Nick was different. On one wall was a large painting of the sun, with petal-like flames surrounding it. Personally, Jackie thought it sucked, but he’d never say so. Out loud. Another, stacked near the easel, looked very old, and was of a very beautiful lady with bountiful waves of dark hair, and a gaze that seemed to follow you. From the artistic style and her dress, it looked like a DaVinci, but no way could Nick and Nat have anything that old! Another, that of a thick- necked, somewhat balding man in Medieval clothes with intense, disturbing eyes, arrested his attention. Something about that face frankly scared Jackie. This, he decided, was definitely not a nice man. Who was he, he wondered? Nick’s father, perhaps? Now that he thought about it, Nick never talked about his family. Natalie had, telling him about her mom and dad, her childhood, and once her brother, but never Nick. He went from the paintings to the whatnot shelf near the table. There were photos here. One of Natalie with a heavyset black lady in a morgue, wearing napkins, a bonesaw in one hand and a fork in the other, and a chicken on the examining table. Weird! Another was one of her graduating class from medical school. A box on a higher shelf caught his attention. Opening it, he found a wooden cross inside. Very old and bound with rawhide, it had some slight scorch marks on one side. Underneath was a smaller cross, of silver, on a silver chain. Hhmm. He didn’t know the Barber’s were religious. He closed that box, and looked through another one. Ah, more pictures. One was of Nick, with a slightly heavyset man with receding hair, in a rumpled suit. There were more of him with the same man, in a police station. “Donald Schanke,” he read on the back of one. Next to the name was written a recipe of some sort. “What’s a souvlaki?” he wondered aloud. He put the snap back, and looked at the others. Nick, dressed in black, standing with an oriental woman, and another next to a very sexy young blonde lady with a peaches and cream complexion, and a big black man, in the same police station. Police station, again. Why? “What…” said Jackie, as he found and opened Nick’s old ID folder. Toronto PD, Detective Nicholas Knight? “But…” He turned, the need to use the can acute now, and crossed to the door. He knocked. No response. Funny. “Nick? Nicholas?” When he got no answer, he opened the door, just as Natalie burst into the room, and found Nicholas insensate on the floor. CHAPTER FIVE “Ah, the Moon,” said the sibilant voice on the radio. “Its silvery light. Do you miss it, boys and girls? Hhmm? Do you look up, into the dark sky, and long for the nights that were?” Lucien LaCroix waited for a few seconds, considering his next words. “I know I do,” he continued. “I wish I could still look up there, and see it. See them.” He waited a beat. “Yes, My Children. Them. Our departed friends. This new project, this latest undertaking, cannot ever, truly, replace that which has been lost. It can never, ever, bring our loved ones back. What do you think, listeners? Tell me. The Nightcrawlers wants to know.” After the show, Lucien LaCroix went up to the roof of the Raven, and scanned the sky. He still vividly recalled the night of September 13th, 1999, just after 8 PM, when he’d looked up and watched the impossible. Watched in utter horror as the Moon, and everyone on it, was blown out of Earth orbit. How he’d stood in shock, how he’d raged, at the loss of Nicholas, his Nicholas, to a cosmic accident. But Nicholas still lived! Of this, he was certain. However tenuously, he had never ceased to feel his son through the link forged between them so long ago, when he had brought Nicholas across. Wherever it was that Moonbase Alpha had carried him, wherever in the unthinkable immensity of the universe he might be, Nicholas was alive! He looked up, to where the Moon once had been. Instead of the dark of night, he saw a bright dot in the sky. The New Moon, it had been dubbed, the most ambitious construction project in all of history. When Alpha had been ripped away by the explosion of the nuclear waste dumps, the effects on Earth had been terrible. The earthquakes alone had killed over three million people in the first week, the tidal waves and disease which followed millions more. Weather patterns had shifted, and while floods devastated some areas, famine threatened others. What else lay in store? It was then that a wild, desperate plan had been hatched, to use the nearly completed Meta Probe ship to try and rescue the people of Alpha. But, even with the latest cutting-edge technology of her engines, she was unable to reach the departing Moon before it disappeared into some sort of sensor distortion, and was lost to all tracking. Reluctantly, angrily, admitting defeat, the crew had turned the ship around, and… Someone had an idea. A wild, nutty, insane idea. The Moon’s loss was devastating. Well, when you lost a critical part, didn’t you try and replace it? After months of debate and counter-debate, the crew of the Meta Probe decided to ignore the pencil pushers endlessly muttering “Oh dear, oh dear”, and did it on their own. Straining even her powerful engines to their limits, they successfully hijacked an asteroid. Barely twenty miles across at its widest, of carbonaceous chondritic material, and already on an Earth-crossing orbit, they latched on, pulled, tugged, and nudged, at last shepherding the space rock into Earth orbit. With the help of several Eagles, and not a few explosives, it was at last put into an orbit of 240,000 miles mean above the Earth. “Brilliant!” said the politicians and scientists, many of whom had balked at the original idea. But, as always, success has a thousand fathers, and the Space Commission was ordered to gear its resources towards a new goal. Giving Earth a new moon. Now, an endless wagon train of modified Eagles trucked to and fro, plundering the asteroid belt to build up Earth’s new satellite, dragging back everything current technology could possibly budge. Some of the larger asteroids were pulverized, others were just plopped onto the growing mass, whichever worked the best, as its gravity increased. And it seemed to be working. Already the new satellite had grown from the initial 20 miles, to well over a hundred, and it’s orbit settled in at just over 28 ½ days. While most space scientists cautioned that it was still far too early to tell, the number of killer quakes had diminished, and the shift in Earth’s axis perceptibly slowed. In some areas, small tides were even being reported once more. Wishful thinking at this stage, or portents of success to come? No one could say, but the project continued at a feverish, ever-increasing pace. But LaCroix cared little for it, one way or the other. Man’s science might replace the Moon, but not his Nicholas! For that, he would have to turn to something else. Something far, far older than mere mortal science. Something that worked. Someone. He looked at his watch. Still four hours till dawn. Down below in the street, he spotted someone. Ah, sustenance! He looked about. The coast was clear. Speeding down, he took them, filling his mouth with the first rush of their hot blood. But not all of it. The rest of it, and the victim’s life, was reserved for what was to come. He took to the air and flew across countryside, carrying his insensate dinner, anxiously anticipating his next step. After about half an hour, he touched down in a clearing amidst thick woods, miles from anywhere. In the clearing below, all was in readiness; above, clouds were gathering. “Lucien,” said Janette du Charme, greeting him. She took the unconscious victim and laid him on a rough slab of stone, binding him. “You have fed?” she asked him. “Only what I needed to get here, My Child.” Still, after all that had happened, he still called her his child. Always arrogant, Lucien. Always. “Here,” she said, and handed him a bottle. Unlike the swill Nicholas had kept in the old days, this was the real stuff. Human, and fairly fresh. LaCroix drank ravenously, knowing he would need all his strength, for what was to unfold. He finished two full bottles and part of a third, before returning to the altar. As he did so, thunder rolled somewhere far away. Once, Lucien LaCroix would have scoffed at the very idea of such a rite. There was, he had so often stated dogmatically, no God. No devil, no afterlife. All that we have, vampire or mortal, is this world, and only a fool believed otherwise. All belief, all faith had died in him long long ago, as the boy Lucius had watched his beloved mother dying painfully of consumption, his prayers to the gods unanswered. He had grown hard, Lucius Pontius Pilatus, as he’d grown up. Soldier, courtier, mover and shaker in the politics of Rome. But through it all, from the blood-soaked battlefields of Britannia, Gallia, and Judea, to the depths of Nero’s most twisted orgies, he’d believed in nothing. Even after Divia, and his unexpected salvation from Pompeii, it did not change. Until Vanderwal. Vanderwal, the priest who had exorcised the demon that had taken possession of Nicholas. That was something for which the silver-tongued disciple of Lucretius had no answers. None. Except to believe the evidence of his own eyes. So, much to his own surprise, Lucien believed again. But in what? He could hardly go to a priest, be he Vanderwal or another. The mere sight of a cross, even for one as old as he, made him weak and fearful. So… So, he sought out the other side of the equation. The Dark Side of the supernatural, the very font of Evil. “Bring me my Nicholas back!” It could be done, of course. Yes, it could be done. Of course, he was told, there was a price. There was always a price. The price (part of it) that now lay upon the granite slab. The fire was kindled, the victim awakened (thanks to the IV Janette had saved) and strengthened. Naked, LaCroix advanced upon the unfortunate, loric raised high. He spoke the words he had been taught and practiced for so long. Two others had gone the same way, two nights past. Now, with this third oblation to the Father of Evil, his wish would, he fervently hoped, be granted him. He looked into the eyes of his terrified victim, and as lightning flashed, he laughed. Nick awoke, staring up at Helena in Medical. Momentarily disoriented, he tried to remember where he was. “Nick?” asked Helena. “Tracy?” he replied weakly, trying to focus. “Tra…” “It’s Helena, Nick,” said Nat, at once by his side. “You’re in Medical Center.” “You collapsed in your quarters, Nick,” said Helena. “Jackie found you, in the bathroom. Do you remember? “ Slowly, he sat up and looked at them both. “Ah…yeah. I do. I was giving Jackie his lesson, and then I…I felt sick. I went to the can. I…I don’t know.” “You were on the floor, Nick,” said Helena “Unconscious. We found some blood next to you.” “I…yeah. I felt evil. Something sickening. Vile. Almost like I was drowning in it.” “Any idea what it was, Nick?” asked Natalie. “It was…” he spared Helena a brief look, “LaCroix.” “Who?” asked the CMO, confused. “Oh. I see,” she said, remembering at last. Nick had once told her of his “Master”. “Nick, are you sure?” asked Nat. Busy in Medical at the time, she’d felt something through their link, and rushed home. She’d called Helena alone, since Helena was one of only two people on Alpha who knew the truth about them. “Yes. He was there, or I was. It was…it was a field, a clearing. In the forest. He was standing naked over an altar, Nat. With a knife in his hand. And someone was on it. Bound and gagged.” “That sounds disgusting,” said Helena. “Are you sure it wasn’t a dream, Nick, or an hallucination?” “No, Helena,” said Nick, getting to his feet. “It was no dream. Nor am I coming down with Green Sickness. I’m not going to pull a Sanderson on you. It was LaCroix. It was real” He looked at Natalie. “Trust us on this,” said Natalie, to her chief. “There are things in the vampire world even I haven’t figured out, yet.” She handed Nick a beaker filled with red. He downed it slowly, feeling strength return. Helena watched, face disgusted. Though she knew the truth, she still couldn’t help feeling a certain morbid fascination with the Barber’s dining habits. Beep. “Medical,” said Helena. “Helena,” said Koenig, still down on the planet. “I heard we had a casualty. Doctor Nick Barber?” Blast Alpha’s grapevine, she thought. “Yes, John.” “What happened? Is he alright?” “Yes, he’s okay, and I’m discharging him. It seems the…environmental controls in the head locked up somehow, and he passed out for lack of oxygen.” “Well, I’m glad he’s okay. The controls?” Koenig was obviously stifling a smile. “All fixed, John.” “Good. Doctor Barber?” “Yes, Commander?” “When will you be ready for the first test on the new power plant?” “We have some more equipment to hook up, Commander, and plenty of checks to do, yet. But we’re still on schedule for a trial power-up at 0800, tomorrow.” “Good. I should be back there by then. Helena?” “Yes, John?” “You and Bob should be glad to hear we’ve found terranium. Over fifty pounds of it, so far.” Oh that’s great, John. We need it badly. And the rest of it?” Nick and Nat left the Koenigs to discuss their wish list, retiring to Natalie’s lab. As usual, some new, vile-smelling experiment was in progress. “What’s it all mean, Nick? This vision?” She took some blood from him, and put it onto a slide. Mixing it with some of her latest witch’s brew, she popped it under one of the newly constructed scanners. “It was real, Nat. it’s as if I were there. Actually there.” “Back on Earth?” “Yes, but as though I were looking at it through a glass, or a fog. Not clearly.” “And he was sacrificing someone?” she asked. “On an altar?” “Yeah. It was weird, but it felt sick, too. I…I prayed.” “Nick??” She looked up at him. “Yeah, I did. It went away, and I passed out.” “Well, why would LaCruel be sacrificing someone? Other than to himself, I mean. Usually he just indulges his stomach, and that’s that.” “I don’t know, Nat. It is weird, I admit.” He looked at the slide. “Anything?” “Well, not unless bleeding to death is your idea of fun.” “Excuse me?” “Well, my latest brew destroys the vampire virus alright, and the anomalous RNA sequences.” “But?” “It also destroys the platelets.” “Oh great. No clotting.” “Uh huh.” She shut the scanner off. “It’d make us mortal, alright, and then hemophiliacs. Not exactly the kind of mortality we want, Nick.” “No, not really Nat. Though it would be a sick, poetic kind of turnabout, I suppose.” He went to the window. Outback was larger now, features becoming visible on its surface as Alpha drew closer. It was funny, he reflected. These dreams and visions. They’d begun about the time they’d detected Outback’s suns on the long-range scanners. He wondered… No. It was a coincidence of place. Nothing more. “Look! Look, Lucien!” cried Janette, pointing. LaCroix looked up from his victim. Yes! Yes, it was working. It was him! It was Nicholas. Before them, dressed strangely, was Nick. The images were blurred and jumbled, the shimmering rift in the air before them wavering like a fuzzy old picture tube. “Oui!” shouted LaCroix, and leered down at his victim once more. “Enfin!” The wind had risen, lightning flashed across the sky and with a sick howl he arced the knife down. At 0750 Lunar Time, Nick, Ouma, Jim Haines and four others were in the new power plant’s control room. Diagnostics were in progress, as were simulations on the newly designed flow sensors, technology culled from alien encounters. “How’s the intercooler read?” asked Nick. “Up to 93.8%,” said Haines. “Climbing.” “Inducers?” “Check.” “Ouma?” “Rectifiers to 100%, Nick.” “Excellent.” Nicholas checked the flow sensor display in front of him. All the tests said it was perfect. As the intercooler rose past 98%, he heard the control room door behind them open. He turned and saw Jackie enter, Nat behind him. He smiled. “We’re almost ready.” “Cool, Nick,” said Jackie, moving closer to him. He pointed to a panel. “What’s that?” “Temperature, Jackie,” he replied. “And that’s the…” Beep. It was Koenig and Maya at the door. They would witness the test from here, Victor would monitor things from his lab. “Well?” asked Koenig. “Two minutes thirty,” answered Ouma. He edged a paddle up, and pressed a button. “Recorders on.” “Check,” said Nick. “Jackie, shouldn’t you be in class?” asked Koenig. Perhaps understandably, Koenig had never been able to warm to the boy. “But…” “I said he could be here, Commander,” said Nick. “Right now is his usual class time. I thought this might be educational.” “Please? Can I stay, Commander?” asked the boy, all eagerness. “Alright, son,” relented Koenig. “But don’t touch anything.” “I won’t, sir.” Now within a million miles, the Moon’s gravity was beginning to be felt by Outback. Tremors near one of the drill sites had forced it to be relocated, and one of the decaying ruins had collapsed, narrowly missing burying an Eagle and its crew. But it was deep within the planet that Alpha’s tug was most strongly felt. The Moon’s gravity pulled unequally on various parts of the planet, resulting in land tides and, most significantly for the Alphans, minute changes in the planet’s rotation. In the core, spinning at a slightly different rate than the upper layers, Outback’s magnetic field suddenly and unpredictably spiked… A low hum began in the power room, as the system was engaged. With their sensitive ears, the vampires were the first to hear it. As it rose in pitch, it began to “sizzle” as well. In the center of the room, the coils began to glow as it started to collect energy. All across the panels, the indicators rose steadily and smoothly. Power was beginning to flow. “Temperature 7.5 degrees below predictions,” said Maya, checking a readout. “Output now at 1,000 watts,” reported Ouma. “Increase to 2,000,” said Nick. Haines pointed out the sine wave on another indicator, for Commander Koenig. Koenig nodded. Smooth and sweet. 3,000. 4,000. Up the new machine climbed, slowly. Perfect. And spiked wildly. Outback’s field suddenly soared by over 30 gauss, the waves wafting out through space. Bang! Suddenly the power went down to zero. A puff of smoke roiled out from under one of the supports, and they could all smell the fried electronics. “What is it?” asked Koenig. “Fused coupler,” said Nick, checking a sensor. “Piece of cake. I’ll replace it.” He grasped a replacement part from an open crate, and left the control booth, descending to the power room floor. Sure enough, one of the couplers was toast. Nick reached for his tools, and… “Merde!” he muttered. “Jim? Could you bring me the number four wren…spanner?” “I have it, Nick!” cried Jackie, and grabbing up the requested tool, darted through the doors. “Jackie!” cried Nat, but he was gone. She shook her head. “He’s sure inherited his dad’s engineering bent.” “But he shouldn’t presume like that!” said Koenig, sternly. “Jackie,” he boomed over the PA. “When you’ve given him the tool, come back up here, please.” “I could use him for a second, Commander,” said Nick, looking up at the booth. “His hands are smaller, and I need to reach under this.” “Very well,” conceded Koenig. He’d talk to Jackie and his mother later in private. The boy needed some serious discipline. As Nick worked, his mind was once again flooded with images. LaCroix. An altar. Janette. What in Heaven’s name… Lightning arced down, and struck LaCroix’s raised fist. He felt the searing agony as the power ripped through him, and he screamed. “There,” said Nick, as the new coupler was popped into place. He stood up and gathered his tools, then froze. All around him, the system’s coils were ablaze, energy pulsing through them suddenly. How? Not yet! “Shut it down!” he screamed, as he felt his skin crawling with static. “Shut it…” Once more, Outback’s magnetic field violently pulsed. Pulsed, and then reversed polarity. Its waves flew outwards, and… Struck the pulsing coils surrounding Nick and Jackie. There was a blinding flash of pure white light, and a sound like the shriek of ripping metal. Nicholas felt as if he were being torn in shreds, and then all became mercifully black. “Lucien!!” screamed Janette. “Lucien!!” But there was no answer. Nothing but silence from the smoldering pit where he and the altar had been. At last, Ouma shut the system down, physically pulling an entire cable trunk out to do it. At the instant Nick had reconnected the coupler, a circuit board smoked, an indicator had spiked and things had run rapidly out of control. The power output had gone totally off the scale, smoking several instruments. Then, as quickly as it had started, it was gone. The system was dead. “Nick! Nick!” shouted Natalie, running for the power room floor. Koenig called for Helena, and followed her on down. Panicked, Nat could at first see only a leg, and smell the odor of burned flesh. Totally forgetting herself, she moved with a vampire’s speed. She screamed at her first sight of the two. One body was hideously burned, flesh charred and smoking, lying amidst chunks of…stone? The second, face down, was more intact and had horrible burns on their back, legs, arms, and… “What the hell?” she cried as she took it all in. Both bodies were those of adults, and one was entirely nude! She drew closer, but already her senses had told her the truth. She stopped, and the others rushed past her. Helena arrived, and turned the naked body over. It was a man, and despite the damage to the face… “My God!” she swore aloud. “LaCroix!” CHAPTER SIX “What do we have?” asked Tony Verdeschi in Medical, standing over the newcomers. “As near as we can tell,” said Helena, trying to come up with something to tell him, “we have two males, one aged about 45-50 I’d say, the other one…mmm, nearer to 30. Both DOA of course. I’ll know more after the post mortem examinations.” She glanced at Nat. How long? her eyes asked. “How the hell did they get here?” Tony went on. “It was Nick and Jackie, down there in the power room. I’ve never seen these two before.” “I don’t know, Tony,” said Helena. On one table lay LaCroix, still “dead”. On the second was the body of the other man, burned beyond recognition. “Both died of massive burns, as you can see.” She held up the stump of LaCroix’s left hand. “His hand appears to have been lost in an explosion of some sort.” At that moment Commander Koenig entered, looking even grimmer than usual. “Well, Helena?” he asked. She repeated for the Commander what she’d just told the others. “You alright, Natalie?” Nat nodded. What was there to say? “Well folks, we have a new wrinkle.” “What?” asked Tony. “Our trajectory has shifted,” he said, face grim. “There’s a better than 90% chance that we’ll go into orbit around Outback.” “How, John? We were supposed to pass by it well out of…” “We don’t know, Tony. The computer’s on it, and so is Maya. Victor’s trying to figure out what the hell happened in the power room. Whatever it was, it knocked down systems all over the base. Even the Cylons went down.” “And now?” asked Nat, pulling the sheet back over LaCroix’s body. Hopefully she could start cutting before he returned. Ooooooooooooh, she liked that idea! “Most of it was just kicked breakers. Technical’s got everything back up, even them. But…” Natalie did not hear the rest of Koenig’s words. On the very edges of her senses, she could feel LaCroix returning. He would resurrect soon, and if he did so, in front of all these witnesses… And, he would need blood. Lots of it she guessed, if his condition was anything to go by, and he wasn’t likely to be gentle about it. She had to safeguard the rest from his ravenous hunger, when he arose. How the… “…you know him, Natalie?” it took her a few seconds to realize she was being spoken to. She looked up. It was Verdeschi. Oh that look, she thought. All cop. He pulled back the sheet, and looked down at the corpse. “I heard you, Natalie. You said ‘Oh My God. LaCroix’ Do you know this man?” He looked down at the body, and his brows furrowed. “Santa…Helena, look!” Oh shit! They all strained to look. The horrid burns on LaCroix’s arms and face were visibly, if slowly, healing. Everyone save Natalie uttered something coarse. His eyes twitched. Close. Realizing the jig was up, Nat fairly flew to the locker, and retrieved the one thing LaCroix was going to need. All three mortals recoiled in horror as the burned corpse suddenly took in a huge gulp of air. Mouth open, he drew in huge amounts of it, then sat bolt upright, opening his good eye. “Cazzo!” hissed Tony, stepping back. “No!” bellowed Nat, as Tony moved to draw his weapon. She barged between them and shoved the tube from the bag into LaCroix’s mouth, squeezing. The ancient vampire drew hard on the succulent fluid, groaning loudly, draining the bag in one go. It was at once replaced with a second. As he drank, they could all see the healing begin to accelerate. LaCroix raised his hands to grasp the bag, one only slightly burned, the other a charred and mangled stump. No one said anything as Nat replaced the second bag with a third. LaCroix slobbered his way through it as greedily as the first two, then when it was empty let out a long sigh and lay back down. “Helena,” said Maya entering. She stopped short, dropping her datapad, eyes fixed on the moving corpse. “Aza’b!” she swore aloud. “What in God’s Name…” began Koenig, when LaCroix opened his eye again, and looked around at all of them, at last fixing on Natalie. He smiled that non-smile of his, or at least tried to, and opened his savaged lips. His voice was thick with pain. “Well, well. Doctor Lambert. Whatever can you be doing here?” Jackie had absolutely no idea where he was, except for one inescapable fact. He wasn’t on the Moon, anymore. He’d awakened to something rough rubbing against his face, and opened his eyes to thick forest, the trees nearly blocking out the sunlight. He was face down in the mud, and the rough something was a rock. He tried to rise, pain rippling through every muscle and joint, thirst burning, and made it to his knees. He wiped the mud away, and looked around him. A shaft of sunlight penetrated to the forest floor, and reflected off a small stream. He crawled there, and slaked his thirst. The water was muddy and tasted of things he’d never experienced on Alpha, but he didn’t care. Water was water. Thirst satisfied for the moment, he looked about some more. Nick. Where was Nick? He got slowly to his feet and moved around, looking under trees, bushes, everywhere. At last he heard a soft groan, and turned. Under a thorny bush he found Nick, on his side, face scratched up, but otherwise seemingly hale. “Nick! Nick, wake up!” he said, shaking his teacher. Nick groaned, but nothing else. Not knowing what else to do, he drug Nick over to the stream and bathed his face in the water, mere inches from the shaft of sun. “Wait a sec,” he muttered, and unhooked the commlock from his belt. Despite all, it appeared undamaged, and he keyed it. “Uh…this is Jackie Crawford, calling Moonbase Alpha. Come in, please.” The tiny screen however, gave only snow, the speaker only hiss. He keyed in his mom’s code number, but got no answer from her, either. It was the same with Tony’s, Maya’s, Alan’s, the Commander’s. All of them were dead air. He tried Nick’s unit, but got the same results. So, alone, scared, and not knowing what else to do, Jackie did what he’d often seen or heard his elders do, at bad moments. He swore. Cussed a blue streak Alan or Sanderson would have been proud of. As if in response, Nick stirred and flailed one arm. Jackie slapped cold water on his face again, and noticed something odd. His scratches. He was sure there had been more of them. How…Mmmmmm, must be the crummy light, here. He tugged Nick into the shaft of light to get a better look, and got one hell of a shock instead. Nick’s skin began to hiss, vapor rising from it. He was at once awake; eyes wide open, screeching in pain. Instinctively he recoiled, pushing Jackie away and scrambling back into the gloom. “Nick? Nick, what is it?” he cried, as the vampire turned to hide his face from the boy. He crawled into the shadow of the foliage, and stopped. A few moments later, he relaxed, and turned to look at Jackie. The skin on the right side of his face was red and inflamed, some of it peeling. “Nick? What’s wrong?” asked Jackie again, drawing close. “Where…where are we?” croaked Nick, hand to face. “I don’t know, Nick. I woke up a few minutes ago, right here.” Nick reached for his commlock. “I already tried that. Nobody’s answering.” He handed Nick his back. “Maybe this is that planet we’re getting close to? Outback?” “No,” replied Nick, taking in a deep draught of air. “Outback’s atmosphere is too thin to breathe. Not much life” He sat, back stiff against a tree trunk, and breathed again. He knew this air! He could smell the soil, the water, the trees, the animals in the forest. And somewhere not too far away, the sea. He knew not how, but this was Earth. He was home! But how? And where was Natalie? He leaned back and closing his eyes, concentrated. There, ever so faintly, was his link to her. She was still there, but how the… “What’s wrong with you, Nick?’ Jackie asked again. “You’re skin…” “I have a skin disease,” he replied, eager to deflect the boy’s quick mind now. “It’s called phototropia, and it makes me allergic to the sunlight. It can hurt the skin pretty badly, sometimes.” “Oh. Is that why you never go down to any planets?” “Yeah.Yeah, it is.” “I’m sorry, Nick. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I was worried.” “It’s okay, Jackie,” said Nick, with his disarming smile. “Don’t beat yourself up over it.” He tried the commlocks again, and of course got nothing. Nothing excepts Jackie’s. Both units still worked, which puzzled him. Whatever had happened in the power room should have toasted any electronic device. Why not these? And why weren’t they dead? The energy released in that brief moment should have killed them, or at least Jackie. Yet, aside from a little residual dizziness, both of them appeared to be fine. Again, Nick looked around at the forest. He at once recognized several species of trees and plants. A sparrow alighted on a moss- covered rock, a crow cawed from a branch somewhere above. All Earth species. Despite the seeming impossibility of it all, it was true. The two of them were, somehow, back on Earth. But why did their commlocks pick up nothing? Virtually all Space Commission facilities, and several militaries, used them dirtside, as did a number of private companies. Fully charged, each had an effective range of a few miles. But still nothing. He didn’t get it. He felt the breeze rise, and it was getting chill. The shaft of sunlight was gone now, and he got to his feet. Like Jackie, his joints and muscles hurt like mad, and he moved stiffly. He went to the stream and drank deeply, washing the horrid dry taste out of his mouth. He straightened up, looked over at Jackie, and felt… Hungry. Deep within, he felt the first stirrings of the vampire, and the need for blood. He looked at his commlock again. It read 1430, Lunar Time. Over six hours. No wonder he was feeling hungry now. And Jackie was looking sooooo…….. He stood, shaking off the feeling for now, and scanned the forest with his vampiric senses. Upstream, he sensed a few animals and something else. Something artificial. “Come on, Jackie,” he called. Since he’d awakened, the light had noticeably dimmed. Unlike himself, Jackie would need warmth and shelter, soon. As for his needs… An hour’s trek or so brought them to a clearing, and an overgrown shack. It was hard to see much detail in the rum light, but it looked crudely built, and seemed long abandoned. “Shelter,” said Jackie, and moved ahead. Nick held him back. “Take it easy, Jackie. Let’s be careful.” Nick scanned the area, but sensed no one. He sniffed. Nothing. They moved closer, and Nick suddenly recoiled, with a hiss. Over the door, which was slightly ajar, was a rough-hewn wooden crucifix. It took him a moment to recover himself. “You okay, Nick?” asked Jackie. “Uh, yeah. I stumbled on a rock, I think.” “Okay.” Without preamble, Jackie entered the hut. Almost at once, Nick heard his sharp intake of breath, and cry of fear. He dashed in, cross irregardless, and found Jackie staring down at a corpse. Or, more accurately, skeleton. On a simple bunk, to the right of the door, lay the bones of a man, still attired in a rotted monk’s habit. Jackie turned away in fear, and Nick held him close. The dead man had owned a tinderbox, and soon Nick had a small fire going, and had lighted a lamp. As reverently as possible, he took the dead man outside, laying him next to the side of the hut. Returning, he saw the horror in Jackie’s eyes. Aside from the dead Dorcon warrior, he’d never seen a corpse. Bones were something on X-rays, or computer graphics in class, not reality. Nick kicked himself for not sensing it himself. All that time in the sterile, artificial environment of Alpha had obviously numbed his perceptions. “Any idea who he was?” asked Jackie, a little later. “No. He was dressed as a monk, though.” “What’s a monk?” Nick explained it, and the whole concept of monasticism. In his studies, Jackie had found the word, but not gotten into it, yet. Of course, in the closed environment of Alpha, virtually no one was celibate, and there were certainly no canonical strictures in force. On the Moon, there was no Rule of Saint Benedict. He found the whole thing strange. By the light of the tiny lamp, Nick searched the humble shack. The late occupant had lived simply, in the extreme. He found some water in a barrel, gone foul, a small jug of wine, definitely not foul, and some bits of long-spoiled food. What was someone doing out here, living like this, in the modern world, Nick wondered? True, there were still people of faith in the modern, secular world, but to live this rough? Weird. At the foot of the bunk, he found a small chest. Inside were books. Books… All written by hand? There were about half a dozen of them, written by hand upon vellum, along with a few scraps of parchment, an ink well, and a number of quill pens. This was getting weirder and weirder by the minute. He held up one parchment to the light. It was a Psalter. In Latin, and beautifully illuminated, too. The vampire in him eschewed the holy symbols, but Nick the man soldiered on. The rest of the writings were sacred as well, as was the one found near the body. No doubt he’d been reading when he’d fallen asleep for the last time. Still, there was nothing modern. This bothered Nick. There wasn’t even a watch or a clock, to mark the hours for a monk to sing the offices, something he would have had to keep track of. Why? Once more he felt the sting of hunger, as the Beast stirred within. He could hear Jackie’s heartbeat pound loudly in his ears, smell his hot blood! He turned to look… “I’m going out,” he said. “Stay here, Jackie.” “To try and find out where we are,” replied Nick. “I don’t like not picking up anything on the commlocks. Keep yours open, in case I call.” “But Nick…” “Stay here! Please.” He leaned down to look at the boy, and in a very bad Austrian accent, said, “I’ll be back!” With Jackie’s grumbling astern, he was out into the night. With the senses of a vampire, make that a hungry vampire, he prowled the woods. After a scant few minutes, he scented something. He sped towards it. A deer! With a speed so great the deer sensed nothing till the last instant, he was upon it. The beast struggled, thrashing violently, but quickly fell, it’s hot lifeblood filling Nick. He felt the hot nectar dribbling down his chin, he moaned in ecstasy, reveling in the sheer, sweet pleasure of the kill. As he stood over the twitching kill, he chastised himself. To react so quickly, so thoughtlessly… Had he learned nothing in all these years? No control? Could he not wait till they… He froze, suddenly, as he felt it. Something was changing, he could feel it. Something that, perhaps, only a vampire could feel. A light, an energy, a… He turned. Through a gap in the forest, he saw it. Saw her. Saw that thing which could not possibly here, now, but which unquestionably, undeniably, was. Nick stood, rooted to the spot, and watched as the Moon rose through the trees, higher and higher into the sky. CHAPTER SEVEN “He’s who?” asked Koenig in his office. With him were Tony, Helena, Victor, and Ouma. “We’ve identified him as Lucien LaCroix,” said Tony. “He lives in Toronto, Canada. According to what little we had before Breakaway, he owns a nightclub there, called the Raven, as well as hosting an all- night call-in show on station CERK, called the Nightcrawler. I remember hearing it myself once or twice, before we left Earth. Bizarre stuff, really. Creepy.” “Me, too,” said Ouma. “Weird bird, Commander.” “I think the real question, John,” said Tony, looking up from his report, “is not so much who this man is, but what is he? You saw it. A man, horribly burned to death, suddenly starts to heal, and gets up off the slab and starts talking? That's sure as hell no ordinary man, John.” “I agree. Helena, how’s Susan?” “Sedated for now. She’s in a bad way, emotionally, John.” “What about these men?” “Well,” she began, wondering how far she could go, here, “I’d given both bodies only a cursory examination, John. From what I saw, both men appear to be Human. Bob is running tests on this LaCroix, and Ben’s autopsying the other one. So far, we’ve found nothing out of the ordinary from a biological standpoint. The internal organs all check out, the skeletal and muscular systems too. All perfectly Human.” “Normal Human beings do not rise up from the dead like that, Helena,” said Tony. “That man was dead. No pulse, no respiration, zip. Then…” “And Natalie certainly knows something about him,” said John. “She said ‘LaCroix’ in the power room, and he called her by her maiden name, Lambert.” “He is unnatural,” said Ouma, shaking his head. “I know what he is.” He looked at them all. “Vampire.” “Oh…” began John, but Ouma pushed forward. “I know it sounds like superstition, Commander. But I grew up in Jamaica. I can still remember the stories my grandmother used to tell me, when I was a little boy. About those lost souls who walk forever in darkness, and feed on blood.” He waited a beat. “We all saw him drink it. And rise from the dead!” “Sure sounds like a…well, vampire,” said Tony, reluctantly. “My uncle used to scare the hell out of me at bedtime too, with stories about them, John.” “Victor,” said John, turning to him. Right now, he needed to feel something scientific and solid under his feet. “Any clues as to what happened? Where did Nick and the boy go, and how did we end up with LaCroix and the other man?” “We’re still working on it, John,” replied the old academic, scratching his head. “But we’ve got an idea about our trajectory.” “Oh?” “Yes. Apparently, the magnetic field of the planet surged, or spiked, at precisely the moment Nick replaced the fused power coupling. It powered up uncontrollably, and then Outback’s field reversed.” “Like two magnets,” said Ouma. “Exactly. The energy produced by our equipment, and Outback’s field, pulled us closer. As we speak, we’re in a long, elliptical orbit.” “Permanent?” asked Tony. “We don’t know, yet. But if the computer projections are correct, we’ll go from just over a million miles at the highest, to under 70,000 at the closest, in this new orbit.” “Actually, that might not be so bad, John,” interjected Helena. “With a constant source of solar energy, we could build domes, and expand our food production even further. And the planet is full of things we need on Alpha. Metals. Water.” “Blessing in disguise, you think?” Koenig asked her, scratching his chin thoughtfully. “Perhaps. It’s raw materials far outstrip the Moon’s.” “She may be right, John,” said Victor. “If we do remain permanently in this system, we could establish a base on Outback, and begin terraforming. It has huge amounts of water below the surface in the form of permafrost, and the poles are over 60% frozen carbon dioxide. In time…” “Okay,” nodded Koenig, after a moment. “Assign one, just one, person from your department to draw up preliminary plans, in case we end up here permanently. For now, I want all but one team on Outback recalled to Alpha. If…” he held up his hand, “the planet’s field goes wild again, I want as few people at risk as possible. Eagles 4 and 9 had system failures from the pulse. I don’t want anyone to get stranded down there.” “Right,” said Tony. “And Victor, we need to start processing ore from Outback at once. Whatever happens, we need to be prepared.” “We’re on it.” “And now,” said Koenig, getting up, face grim, “I want to talk to Doctor Barber. I want to know what’s happened to our people.” Nicholas stood, staring at the Moon for several seconds, too stunned even to think. This was not possible. The Moon? Here? At last shaking off his surprise, he looked about him, once more. Yes, that was indeed a deer. That tree over there was an oak, the other one a larch. All species native to Earth. An Earth that no longer had a moon, as he had very good reason to know. After all, he’d been there! He’d experienced Breakaway, along with all the rest of Alpha. Experienced… The alternate Earth! It must be! He recalled the time Alpha had passed through a bizarre space phenomenon, of unknown properties. Shortly thereafter, they had found themselves drifting back towards Earth! And not only drifting, but going into a perfect orbit around it. Only this Earth, it seemed, was uninhabited, devastated by Breakaway, civilization completely eradicated. It also sported another moon, with an abandoned Alpha on it! Down on the surface, they had discovered their own duplicates, struggling to survive on a wild and inhospitable Earth. And their own Moon, on a collision course with the other one. But Alpha, at least their Alpha, was not destroyed. It was, after a few tense moments, suddenly in yet another unknown part of the galaxy, the meaning of it all entirely unclear, as usual. Though of course very curious, neither vampire had enquired of the landing party about their particular doubles. That might explain the hovel they’d found, Nick decided. All technical civilization gone. The colonists from the other Alpha must have sunk to a primitive level. Could he contact the others, he wondered? The other Victor seemed to be the leader of the survivor’s community, the landing party had said, and Victor Bergman knew what he was. Perhaps… “Later,” he muttered, shaking his head, and hefted the dead deer. It was all very, very confusing. Back at the shack, he found Jackie perusing the dead man’s belongings. He turned, startled, as Nick entered carrying the fruit of the night’s labors. “What’s that?” asked Jackie, stepping back a bit. “It’s called a deer,” said Nick, explaining it to someone who had never seen any animal before. “Uh, okay. What do we do with it?” It was only at this point that it occurred to Nick that they’d overlooked a part of his education. There was a knife among the dead man’s possessions, and soon Nick had the deer gutted, skinned, and sizzling over the fire. Though hungry, Jackie looked very dubious at the prospect of putting that into his mouth. “Nick,” he said, as the venison sizzled. “Yeah?” “Are you sure that this is Earth?” “Yes. Yes it is.” “But it can’t be, Nick. I…I saw the Moon. It’s our Moon, Nick. Just like the pictures I saw in school.” “I know, Jackie,” replied Nick, handing him a steaming chunk of venison on a stick. “I saw it too. But it is Earth, just the same. All the plants and animals are from Earth. Those parchments are in an Earth language. This is Earth, Jackie.” “But how, Nick?” he asked again, almost a whine. “How can it be when there’s a moon? Our Moon?” “I don’t know, Jackie.” He watched as his charge bit into the food. The boy grimaced, but chewed and swallowed manfully. Nick bit some off as well, spitting it out when Jackie wasn’t looking, tossing it into the fire. “Yeah, it sure could use some seasoning,” he smiled, watching Jackie’s face curl. “I remember Francois our cook, when I was a kid, he…”Nick stopped, realizing he’d started to reminisce out loud. “Who was Francois?” asked Jackie, curious about Nicholas for his own reasons. “You had a cook in your house?” “Yeah. My parents were wealthy, Jackie. We had a big…home, with a cook, a butler, and a gardener, all that stuff. I even had tutors, too.” “What did your dad do?” “He…was in politics,” replied Nick. “Oh,” replied Jackie, taking another bite. It was bland, yes, but it sure was filling. He hadn’t realized just how hungry he really was. Well, maybe burned animal flesh was…okay. “Yeah, seasoning. Maybe garlic. Garlic would be good.” “Yeah,” said Nick, shuddering even at the thought. “Too bad we don’t have any.” “Nick, how did you catch this deer?” “Uhh…I found it dead,” he answered, much too quickly. “I decided we needed it more than the scavengers did.” “Right. Lucky, huh?’ “Yeah. Sure was.” Later, full as a tick, Jackie fell asleep and Nick laid him on the humble bunk. Moving outside, he looked up at the Moon, and wondered. Even Victor, and later on Maya, had never been able to explain the phenomenon that had produced a duplicate Moon, and brought it here, then themselves. But do all that it had, and now here he was. He stood in a small clearing, and lifted off the ground till the treetops were hundreds of feet below him. As he scanned 360, he saw no artificial lights whatsoever, incandescent or fluorescent. He stretched out his senses to their maximum. No aircraft, no motorized vehicles of any sort within his range. He looked upwards and sensed. That was odd. No satellites. Though civilization may have collapsed down here, the report of the Commander’s flight to the surface did show a few satellites still in orbit, as well as the remains of the International Space Station. Surely something must still remain in orbit, if only wreckage! But Nick could sense nothing. Below, the land spread out to the horizon, except to his right. He both heard and smelled the sea. But upon it’s surface, there seemed to be nothing, at least of the modern sort. No steamships, no diesels, nothing. Shaking his head, he drew his commlock, and punched in the number of Paul Morrow’s old unit. He called. Nothing. Victor’s. The same. He went through every one that he could remember. All channels were dead. Damn! This wasn’t right! Someone, something, must remain. How… He reset his commlock again, and pointed it at the Moon. When the other Alpha had been evacuated, one navigation beacon had been left functioning, its signal drawing them to the abandoned base. He scanned, but there was nothing amidst the static. Then he cursed, remembering. The landing party had turned the beacon off! Wait! Victor had said that Earth’s axis had shifted between five and six degrees, in that reality. And looking at Polaris, the North Star, it did seem to be off from where it should be by a few degrees. He tried to remember what the Right Ascension and Declination for Polaris ought to be, but he’d never paid much heed to astronomy. For a moment he thought of his sister, Fleur, and wished he’d teased her about her interest in astronomy less, and listened to what she’d learned more. Damn. Why hadn't they built a compass into these commlocks? He suddenly heard something below, and descended to the ground. Just ahead through the trees was a road, and someone was travelling on it! He waited as they approached, listening. As they drew nearer, he heard not the sound of an engine, but the beat of hooves upon dirt. At last! People! He… He sensed that which only a vampire can sense, the presence of another of his own kind. He faded back, he wasn’t sure exactly why, into the trees, and stretched his senses to their limit. The hoofbeats stopped, about a hundred yards away, and he heard voices. “…you feel it?” “Aye, I do. Tis one of …” Blast this wind, thought Nick. Even as a vampire, he could barely hear them. Three, he was sure. “…not show himself unto us, I won…” said one voice, a man’s. “As like tis some wretched carouche, that doth lurk in yon wood,” said the first voice. “Then let us …his badgers and moles,” said another, a woman’s voice. He knew that voice! If only it were clearer! “We’ve no need of such riff-raff.” “Mon Dieu!” swore Nick, as it sunk in at last. The trio, after some moments, resumed their ride, and were lost to his senses. He dashed out onto the road, little better than a wagon track, and watched them disappear into the darkness. He stood there for a few moments, in pure, utter shock. How? Why? Beep. It took him several seconds to realize that his commlock was beeping. He pulled it from his belt clip, and Jackie's image came up on the tiny screen. “Nick? Where are you?” “Ahhh…just scouting the area, Jackie. Are you okay?” “Of course!” replied Jackie, with a measure of wounded pride. “I just wondered where you were at is all.” “Okay. Be right there.” He switched off, and reclipping the unit to his belt, flew back towards the hut. He touched down behind some trees and stepped out into the moonlight. At once, Jackie was out the door. “Nick. Find anything?” “Not much, Jackie. There’s a road, that way,” he pointed, “but I didn’t see or hear any cars on it.” “Maybe we can find someone tomorrow, then. You think?” “Yeah. Hope so.” He led the way back into the hut. The fire had burned low, and Nick tossed a couple of faggots on it, stirring it to cheery life again. After a few minutes, he was aware of Jackie looking at him. “Nick?” “Yeah?” “How come your face is all healed up?” “Arrogant, isn’t he?’ said Koenig, watching and listening to LaCroix on a monitor in Helena’s office. From his bed, the old vampire was hurling sarcasm and vitriol at one of the nurses, safely on the other side of the window. “A real SOB,” nodded Tony. He turned to Natalie, seated across the table from them like the defendant in court. “Now, what do you know about this man, Natalie? You called him by name, and you fed him blood when he pulled a Lazarus on us. He called you by name. Now please Natalie, I really don’t want to get nasty. We’ve been friends. You saved my life, once. Maya’s too. And I don’t forget that. Ever. But the safety of Alpha is my number one concern, Nat. And hey, you want to find out what happened to Nick, don’t you?” That was one hell of a low blow, Verdeschi, she thought, and tossed him a nasty glare. She looked from him to Helena, then Commander Koenig. “Yes, I know LaCroix. I’ve known him for years.” “Doesn’t sound like he’s a friend,” said Koenig. “Lucien LaCroix is nobody’s friend, Commander,” she replied with some heat. She looked at Helena again, but the CMO could do naught, without revealing the truth. “He is a vile, cruel, sadistic, murdering bastard. Take my advice, Commander. Shoot him out an airlock like Balor, and we’ll all be better off.” “And how do you come to know him so well, Natalie?” asked Tony. “Before I came to Alpha, I was Crown Coroner in Toronto as you well know. More than once, I saw the evidence of his handiwork.” They already know, Nat. You’ve got to deflect them… “And how do you explain him being here, or what we all saw?” asked Koenig. “I know what it looks like, Natalie. Please tell me I’m wrong about this.” “No. No, you’re not wrong, Commander.” She sighed. “Lucien LaCroix is a vampire.” No one flinched, scoffed, sighed, or exclaimed disbelief. How could they? “A very old, very powerful vampire. I was sworn to secrecy, Commander, about what I had learned. An oath, never to speak of it.” Helena squirmed at that, and Koenig caught it. “If you hate him, Natalie,” said Koenig, “then why did you help him? You fed him…well, you know what I mean.” “Upon reviving, a vampire’s one and only thought would be to get blood. A horribly injured one doubly so. A room full of people would have been the perfect feeding ground. It would have glutted him, Commander. And he’s strong, believe you me. Strong like a demon straight out of Hell! You wouldn’t have been able to stop him before he’d drained everyone.” “Well whatever he is, he certainly seems to know you,” resumed Tony, tone unfriendly. “He’s told us a lot about you and Nick. Including the fact that Doctor Nicholas Barber is in fact Detective Nicholas Knight, late of the Toronto PD Homicide Squad.” Silence. “Well?” asked Koenig. “It was…necessary for Nick to leave,” she sighed. “His life was in danger, Commander. He knew too much. We knew too much.” Behind Tony his deputy, Pierce, snorted. “We came here, to escape.” “Escape?” “The Enforcers,” answered Natalie, growing both tense and hungry. “The vampire police.” “The what?” asked Tony. “Oh come on…” “Yes! The vampire Community, as it is known, thrives on anonymity, Tony. They hardly want people to know about them. The Enforcers see to that. Anyone, vampire or mortal, that in any way endangers that anonymity is dealt with. Permanently. That’s why we came to Alpha. To escape them. Pure self-preservation.” She waited a few beats. “After Breakaway, it hardly mattered anymore. Nick and I kept our secrets to ourselves, and that was that.” “So Nick was up here under a false identity,” said Koenig. “You know that’s a violation of the law, Natalie.” “Commander Gorski knew about it,” she replied. “And so did Commissioner Simmonds. We were like Dr. Queller, Commander.” “And they’ve both done great work in the Medical Department,” said Helena. “The letter of the LSRO regulations certainly has little meaning now, John.” “I agree,” Koenig sighed. “Unfortunately,” Tony resumed, “neither Commander Gorski, nor our dear, late Commissioner, are available for comment just now, Natalie. We only have your word for any of this.” “No.” They all turned to look at Helena. “You’ve got mine too, Tony. I knew about them before they came to Alpha.” “Helena?” asked John, clearly taken off-guard by this. “I had already met Natalie, at a medical convention, back in 1994, in New York. When she applied to Alpha, I gave her a letter of recommendation. She told me about the problems with Nick and all that, so I helped smooth things over with Simmonds’ office. He was so damned preoccupied with the Meta Probe, it was a snap.” She shrugged. “After Breakaway, it really didn’t seem to matter.” “And it doesn’t now,” nodded Koenig. “But we still have to figure out what happened, and try and get Nick and Jackie back.” He looked to Helena. “How’s Sue holding up?” “Better,” said Helena. “She’s out from under the sedation, but its rough on her, John. She seems…” She stopped, turning to look at Natalie, as she coughed loudly. Nat was gasping for breath, clutching at her throat, and turning a bilious shade of green. She struggled to rise, and reached out to grasp the edge of the desk. “What…” began Tony, but his deputy, Pierce, was looming over Natalie, holding something right up against her face. At once, they could all smell it. Garlic! “What the hell are you doing?” yelled Tony, yanking Pierce’s hand away, and tearing the crushed herb from it. To his surprise, Pierce did not resist. “Garlic? What in God’s name…” He stopped, looking back to Nat. She’d crawled away towards one wall, gagging madly for breath. Helena at once went for an oxygen bottle, putting the mask over Nat’s face. “Pierce, what…” began Koenig, rising, but he turned as a sound utterly inhuman came from Nat. He actually leapt back at the sight of her, eyes ablaze, fangs bared, gaze fixed murderously on Pierce. “Yeah,” said Pierce. “See? She’s one of them, too.” CHAPTER EIGHT Nick slept fitfully the next day, sheltering from the sun in the monk’s hut. From time to time he would awake, pondering this whole mess, and find his thoughts drifting towards Natalie. How was she? Mon Dieu! He missed her powerfully. And last night, on the road, it had been them. LaCroix and Janette, with a third vampire, who he didn’t know. But they were here, his Master, and Janette. Here. What were the chances? Nicholas had never doubted that LaCroix had survived the aftermath of Breakaway. The old vampire was notorious for his survival instinct. So, he reflected, was Janette. But the more he thought about it, the less it made sense to him. The hut, the dead monk, the old manuscripts, the lack of any signals, the archaic language and transport of the others. It all added up, regardless of his constant redoing of the numbers. He and Jackie had somehow been transported hundreds of years back in time. But when? Who was the third vampire? Himself? He didn’t think so, although he had no idea what meeting himself would feel like. Was this a time before he’d been brought across? Before he had been born, even? Could… He rose, being careful not to awaken the loudly snoring Jackie, and returned to perusing the parchment fragments. Most of them were in Latin, and of these the bulk were religious in nature. Parts of the Gospels, an illuminated Psalter, Saint Augustine’s De Civitate Dei. But at the bottom was a letter, written in Old French and very worn, yet lovingly preserved. He read the letter, from a woman to her oldest son, bidding him, albeit reluctantly, Godspeed on his journey into the religious life. As he read, he realized that the style of the language was old-fashioned, even for him. It predated his own era, and as if to clinch it, it was even dated. There, in the flowing hand of the author, he read- Michaelmass, Anno Domini 1016. Suddenly it all came together. The dreams, the stars, the vampires on the road. And, an old, old mystery. “Aristotle.” They all looked on, frozen in place, as Natalie glared at Pierce, held at bay by the garlic. She hit the corner, and slowly got to her feet, never taking her eyes off of him. She at last spoke, fangs down. “Get that away from me!” she rasped, it’s odor still burning her throat. Tony tossed the offending herb down a disposal chute, and quickly washed his hands, making Pierce do the same. Soon, the filtration system cleaned it out of the air, and Nat felt the burning begin to ease. She took huge lungfulls of air, grateful for Helena’s oxygen mask, as her vision and other senses cleared. After a few moments, she put the mask aside, and let her appearance return to normal. “Alright,” said Koenig, looking from Natalie to Pierce, then back again. “I want the whole story. And this time I want the TRUTH!” The Commander glared at both of them, pounding his fist on the table, and his eyes reminded them all of the fact that while John Robert Koenig might be a fairly easygoing fellow generally, he was most definitely not a man to be trifled with, and one did so at their peril. “Now!” “Yes,” said Natalie, calmly going to a locker and withdrawing a unit of blood. She poured it into a beaker, drank it down, and then resumed her seat. “I’m a vampire, Commander.” She cast a murderous look at Pierce, then turned back to Koenig. “I have been since before I came to Alpha.” “How long?” “May of 1995. When I lived in Toronto. When Helena and I met at that convention, I was still mortal.” “Why did you come to Alpha?” he asked, sparing Helena a look. “To escape! I did not ask for this, Commander. I never wanted to become a vampire, and would undo it if I could.” She decided that her and Nick’s emotions, that night in his old loft, were nobody’s business. “There was simply no choice.” “So how did it happen?” asked Tony. “Is Nicholas a vampire, too?” pressed Koenig, though she could tell from his tone that he’d already arrived at the truth of the matter. “Yes. Yes, he is,” she replied, taking another drink. “And before you ask, yes. It was Nick that brought me across.” “Across?” asked Koenig. “Made me a vampire. That’s the usual term for it.” “Why? Why would he do that?” asked Tony. “I was dying,” Nat replied, finishing her meal. “I had only minutes to live. Nick had no other choice.” “Okay, so what’s all this got to do with LaCroix?” pressed Verdeschi. “If Nick made you what you are, where does he fit into things?” “He’s the one, I believe, who took my blood, and left Nick with a choice. She related her association with Nick, and his own love/hate relationship with LaCroix. How, she was sure, it had been he, and not Nick, who had drained her to the point of death, and left Nicholas with Hell’s own choice. Either bring her across, or let her die! “And you’ve been working on a cure?” “Yes, Commander.” She told him of coming to Alpha to both develop the synthesizer technology, and pursue research into a cure, away from LaCroix, away from the Community. Away from the Enforcers. “We both want to be free of it!” she exclaimed. We want to be normal people again, not fugitives skulking in the dark, having to hide, feeding on blood. And we were so close, before Breakaway, Commander. So close.” “Go on.” What the hell, Nat thought. She could boozle both of them later. She told them about the Enforcer that had come to Alpha, and how they had destroyed her, moments before Breakaway. She did however, understandably, leave out Alan’s part. “Why didn’t you tell me?” asked Koenig. “Come to me?” “We weren’t sure then just what sort of man you were, Commander. Would you have believed us? Would you have reacted as so many have?” She spared Pierce a withering glance. “Then we saw you in action. Terra Nova. Piri. That whole miserable thing with Simmonds and Zantor. We saw what sort you were, but as time went on, why? You had enough burdens to crush twenty men. Why add any more?” “You knew?” Koenig asked, looking at Helena. She nodded at last. “Why didn’t you tell me?” “I couldn’t believe it at first, John.” She related her experience of watching Natalie rise from the “dead”, after Carolyn Powell shot her down. “When I found her on the lab floor, I examined what I thought was a corpse. Then, she got up, perfectly alright. Technically, that made her my patient. Ethically, I could tell no one. It’s no different than if she’d had a broken bone, or you had cancer. Confidentiality bound me. And then, I was afraid. What if others found out about them? How would they react to the knowledge that we had vampires among us?” “We didn’t need the whole base turning into a lynch mob, Commander,” Natalie went on. “Anonymity best suits us, not the Salem witch trials. So we lived off the synthesizer,” she held up the cup, “ and let things be.” “I see,” sighed Koenig. Then he turned to look at Pierce. “And you? How did you know?” Pierce, it turned out, had been an agent of “The Company,” sent to Alpha under deep cover, to try and discover what two members of “The Community” were doing there. “The CIA?” asked Koenig, disgusted. “You’re kidding.” “No. I can show you my old ID, Commander, if you wish. It’s true. We in The Company know…knew about the existence of vampires. We have for years. We maintained extensive files on some, even utilizing their particular talents on occasion, to get into places and situations that no one else could.” “And you followed us up here?” asked Natalie. “Why?” “We had information that there was a terrorist plot to sabotage the Meta Probe, and just after that we found out that you two were here. Then, astronauts started dying. I was planted in Security, to investigate. After all, the US had sunk tons of money into Alpha, and the International Lunar Finance Committee.” “You were Carolyn Powell’s boyfriend,” said Nat. “The one who slipped her the bugging devices.” “I was. At first, she was just a way to worm into Medical, and keep tabs on you. It was one hell of a shock to find out that LaCroix was paying her to spy on you and sabotage your work here. We hadn’t known that.” “And the Meta Probe?” asked Tony. “Was there a plot?” “I wasn’t able to find out if it was true or just so much hogwash. Then we blew out of orbit, and it didn’t matter any more.” “Why didn’t you expose us?” “You said it yourself. A lynch mob. Hell, we sure didn’t need that. We needed all the medical help we had.” “And now?” asked Helena. “You act as though you hate her and Nick.” “I do. I hate them, hate what they are. I hate him!” He pointed in the direction of LaCroix’s ward. “LaCroix?” “Yes!” hissed Pierce. “Lucien LaCroix is a killer. And they,” he pointed at Natalie, “are his children.” He straightened up, and glared down at Nat. “Lucien LaCroix also killed my father.” She glared back at him. “Be that as it may,” said Koenig, “he is not they. You can’t blame them for LaCroix’s actions, Pierce.” “They share his lineage, therefore his guilt. Oh,” he added, smirking, “and Alan Carter?” Shortly before nightfall, Nick heard the sound of approaching footsteps. He extended his senses, and concentrated. It was but a single person, a man, and not in armor. He moved to the door and looked out. The fading light stung his skin, though not badly, and he waited, listening. He drew his commlock. “Jackie?” “Yeah, Nick?” “Someone’s coming. Better get back here, now.” “Okay Nick.” The newcomer entered the clearing a moment before Jackie did. He held only a walking stick, and was quite old. He stopped, looking at Nick in the dying light, then turned when Jackie emerged from the trees, carrying a bucket. He obviously noticed their odd dress, but said nothing as he approached the hut. “Jackie,” said Nick, motioning him to approach. The boy did so, never taking his eyes off the newcomer. “God save thee, good sirs,” said the newcomer in Latin. Closer now, Nick could see his cross, and tried not to recoil. “And you,” replied Nick. “I seek Brother Modestus,” said the old man, obviously a monk as well. “Where is he?” “He hath departed this life,” said Nick, and showed the newcomer the bones. “We happened upon this place, and found him thus.” The monk crossed himself, and Nick swallowed hard. Though old, the monk’s blood excited his senses and he felt his hunger begin to rise. He would need to feed. Soon. “So it hath pleased God to recall him to His mercy,” said the other. “I am Prior Wulfric. Thou art?” “I…am Nicholas deBrabant, Prior. This is my son, Jacques.” “French. Well, God save thee both.” He reached out, and touched Nick’s Alphan uniform. “Thou art strangely attired, Sir Knight. I have seen naught like unto it.” “We…lost all in the crossing of the Channel. Tis all we could find. Hast thou supped, Brother Prior?” Nick invited the monk inside, and they cooked more of the venison. As they did so, he wondered whose Estate or Manor they were on, and hoped nobody’s forester or parker showed up, to get nasty about his violating someone’s poaching laws. As they spoke, he realized that the old man was Saxon, and since Nick knew the old version of the language, they conversed in it instead. The late Brother Modestus had, it seemed, withdrawn even from the monastery, to become a total hermit, and no one had seen or heard from him since last winter. He had obviously been dead for some months. Brother Prior evinced surprise that a French Knight should speak the Saxon tongue, if somewhat roughly, and Nick told him that his late wife had been English, and that he had brought the boy over here to meet her people, etc… “Faith, ‘tis an unsettled time to be travelling,” said the Prior. “The Norsemen descend upon York with the help of Earl Tostig, and King Harold sits upon an uncertain throne. Duke William will not let such a chance pass!” God, thought Nick, that pins it down! Harold Godwinson of Wessex was at this moment King of England, chosen much to the fury of a certain French noble. Across the Channel, in Normandy, Duke William was preparing to invade, and claim the Crown. William the Conqueror. The Battle of Hastings! CHAPTER NINE “How interesting,” said LaCroix, now out of bed, albeit in a wheelchair, and still under guard. “I am here, and Nicholas is not. Once again, Doctor, it would appear that your wretched technology has betrayed you.” “Is it technology, LaCroix,” asked Natalie, charting him, “or your deal?” “My deal, Doctor? Whatever do you mean?” “We autopsied the other man, LaCroix. I ran a tunneling electron microscope scan of his cells, and he doesn’t have the extra Transfer RNA sequences we do. He was no vampire. Cause of death-one stab wound, right to the heart. We found the remains of a knife, amid the junk that came with you, and the fragment of the knife tip, still embedded in a rib. He was clothed, and you weren’t. I always knew you were evil, LaCrap,” she said, turning to face him squarely, “but when did you sell out to the Devil?” “Oh come now, Doctor, you know full well that I…” “Bullshit, LaCroix! We had to take a course in the Coroner’s Office, on recognizing the signs of ritual violence. I’ve seen enough ritual killings to know what I’m looking at. We found traces of blood and tissue on the knife handle. Yours.” She looked out the window at Outback, about the size of a quarter at the moment, measuring his silence. “Are you that obsessed with Nick, that you, even you, would sink that low?” “There seems to be little point in denials, Doctor,” said the old Roman, looking out a window as well. “I have never relinquished my claim on Nicholas! Nor will I ever do so. Never! He is my son, my creation!” He turned to glare at her, his other eye open now. “Some trifling error with your nuclear waste does not change that.” “I would hardly call what happened trifling, LaCroix. You weren’t here.” “Nor should you have been. You, or Nich…” He stopped, shocked, as Nat slapped him across the face. Hard. Bits of his still-healing skin came off on her gloves, as his wheelchair rolled back to thud against the bed. “Shut your mouth, or I’ll rip your heart out,” hissed Natalie. The two vampires glared at each other, one furious, the other in utter shock. No one dared… “I do…” “Shove it! Remember, you are still weak, LaCrude, and I’m as full as a tick.” As if to rub it in, she downed a full beaker of synthetic blood right in front of him. “Right now, I could kill you with my bare hands. You know it.” “Calm yourself, Doctor,” smiled LaCroix, trying to regain both composure and face. Nat was right, and he knew it. He still felt horribly weak, and his hand was still regenerating. “Calm? Calm myself, when I’m face to face with the…man I hate most in the whole universe? Balor was a stand-up comic next to you. Mentor was a Blessed Saint!!! If it weren’t for…for you, I’d still be Human, and on Earth! You took my blood, and left Nick with Hell’s own choice, you sick bastard.” “My word, Natalie. I never…” “Liar! I tasted your blood, while you were down, and saw the memories. Your psychotic obsession with Nick drove us to Alpha to escape. “We’re here,” she pointed at Outback, red-faced, veins bulging, “orbiting some dump of a planet, because of you! All my loved ones, my family, half a galaxy away, because of you!” Out the window, she could see an Eagle returning from Outback, loaded with ore. “What do you want of me, Natalie?” asked LaCroix, quietly. “I cannot undo the past, nor put the Moon back in her place. But do not lay the blame for Nicholas’ poor choices and indiscretion at my door. I warned him, more than once, not to pursue his relationship with you. Janette as well. He did not heed me, as usual. He…” “ENOUGH!” she bellowed, rounding on him, eyes amber. “You want to know what I want of you? I want to see you burn in hell, you bastard! I want to hear you scream forever in utter torment, as you pay for your 2,000 years of serial murder and all the other untold misery you’ve caused.” She dumped her gloves in the bin, and turned to go. She stopped, and turned back to him with a grin most unpleasant. “You know, Lucius,” she said, emphasizing his old Roman name, “there are quite a few religious folks here on Alpha. They might be very interested to discover just who your father was, Lucius.” And with that, she was gone. “God, she really hates him,” said Koenig to Tony in Security, where they’d been watching on the monitor. “You can feel it from here.” “It’s no put on,” said Maya, next to them. “The voice stress analyzer says she’s telling the truth.” She noticed Koenig shaking his head. “Commander?” “Just trying to absorb it all, Maya.” He looked over at Alan and Helena. Angry at first upon learning he’d been deceived, he’d slowly come to realize how needful it had been. Helena had been acting as a conscientious physician, and Alan was a man of titanic personal loyalty. What else could he have expected of them? “Nick saved my life in that terrorist attack,” Alan had said, after being exposed. “I owed him. And he did after all save us from that Enforcer bitch.” “Yeah. So, what do we do with him? LaCroix, I mean.” “Interrogate him,” said Tony. “For?” “Information about Earth. Victor say this proves that the Earth that contacted us, Dr. Logan I mean, could be an alternate reality, or in our own far future. This LaCroix is from our own world, and time.” “Good point,” said Helena. “Okay,” nodded Koenig. “But remembering what he is, until we can either send him back or make use of him, how do we control him?” Controlling LaCroix turned out to be much easier than expected. Natalie had calculated that eight ounces of synthetic blood per day, no more, would be enough to sustain him and permit the healing to continue, but not enough to allow him to return to his full vampiric strength. He was discharged from Medical, and given specially altered quarters (actually Simmonds’ old rooms). Tony’s logic was impeccable. If LaCroix got uppity, he could be more easily surrounded and dealt with here than in Medical, where other patients might be at risk. Predictably, LaCroix did not like the arrangement much, but his continuing convalescence and need for blood had tamed him for the moment. The rooms were, to him, drab and uninspired, but it was better than remaining in Medical, and in the company of the effusively happy Dr. Russell. Did, he wonder, the Commander know about her… He turned from glowering at Outback as the door opened, and Koenig entered. LaCroix at once disliked the Commander of Moonbase Alpha. Here was a mortal, his senses told him, with a mind as strong, a will as steely, as his own. Someone whom no vampire in their right mind would ever consider bringing across. So amplified, they would in time rise up and destroy their creator. Like himself. “Ah,” said the old Roman. “Room service. Put it over there, Pierre. I’ll sign for it later.” Koenig said nothing, but was followed by one of the salvaged Cylons, carrying a slab of steel. He set it up, and waited. “And what is this?” asked LaCroix, seeing one of the cybernauts for the first time. “Watch,” said Koenig. “Fire,” he said to the robot. It drew a very lethal-looking pistol, and fired point-blank into the steel slab. Amidst the smoke and light, the pistol blew a charred hole in it, dead center. LaCroix recoiled as the metal vaporized, leaving an acrid stench in the air. “You can imagine what it does to flesh,” added Koenig pointedly. “Was it something I said?” flipped LaCroix, trying to regain his composure. “Get this,” said Koenig, quickly pressing a hypo to LaCroix’s arm. “You will do nothing, absolutely nothing, to harm any of my people. This is a subcutaneous homing device. Main computer, Security Section, and Falxa here will always know where to find you. You see, we know about a vampire’s speed, and your hypnotic powers.” “Doctor Lambert has been entirely too free with her tongue, I see.” “She understands the needs of Alpha, Mr. LaCroix. Alpha comes first, and has, since Day One.” “Nicholas has been most remiss in his schooling of his child,” replied LaCroix with a sigh. “I am somehow not surprised.” “I want some information, LaCroix, and I want the truth.” Koenig’s voice, and look, was sharp and uncompromising. “I do not take kindly to being spoken to like this!” snarled LaCroix, his 2,000-year-old ego rising up. “Who do…” “Falxa.” “By your command,” said Falxa, and took hold of LaCroix. LaCroix glared into the others’ optical sensors, and found the sight of the oscillating red bar intimidating. Try as he might, he could not break Falxa’s hold, the robot’s whining servos compensating for every pull and tug. “Let go of…” “At one word from me, Falxa will smash every bone in your body, and dump the remains out an airlock. I doubt that even one of you could survive on the airless surface in full sun, Mr. LaCroix. Falxa.” The Cylon let go and stepped back. How like the ultimate Alpha Male wolf thought LaCroix, who had often watched them as a boy in Italy. He enters, and at once establishes his dominance over all. He goes right to the point of killing, and holds. Holds, but never hesitates. Obviously, this Commander Koenig was not a man who hesitated. Not where the welfare of his people were concerned. How…how Roman of him. LaCroix smiled slightly, and sat down, having no other real choice before him. “What precisely, Commander Koenig, do you wish to know?” CHAPTER TEN Brother Prior spent the night with them, eating sparingly of the venison. Though his eyes were not what they once had been, they saw clearly enough that this man was not quite what he claimed to be. His odd way of speaking, his odder dress, all bespoke a mystery. The boy, Jacque, asked him about life in the monastery, and Wulfric decided that it was most odd that the boy should know naught of monasteries and monks. Faith, one would have to live on the Moon to be so ignorant! At last Jackie and Brother Prior slept, and Nick slipped out of the hut to hunt. He was terribly hungry, and all the time listening to Wulfric he’d had to fight his reaction to the smell of his blood. Nick sniffed the air, listening. He heard a rustling in the underbrush, and dove, coming up with a badger. Its struggles soon ceased, and his hunger eased. He rose up again, and cast his senses wide. He could feel no trace of the vampires from last night, but he did sense mortals, close by. He also smelled smoke. Curious, he moved over that way, coming to ground in the forest near to the road. Through the trees, he saw a wagon, and two men with a woman next to a fire. All were asleep. Just humble travelers, he decided. Tinkers from the looks of their wagon and its wares. He felt glad that LaCroix and the rest were nowhere near, and turned to go, when, faintly, he heard approaching hoofbeats. Two riders from the sound of it, and coming fairly fast. Nick’s sense of danger began to tingle, growing stronger the closer they came. As they drew even with him, he could see two men in armor, armed with swords. The two conversed in hushed tones, then dismounted and moved stealthily towards the camp. Obviously up to no good, Nick decided. And they showed it. One leaped from cover, drawing sword on one of the sleepers. In a blur Nick was there, eyes ablaze. He tore the weapon from the thug’s grasp, and hurled him away into the brush. The second, rifling the cart, turned to see Nick, and reached for his sword. It never cleared his scabbard. Nick grasped his arm, and crushed it in a grip of steel. The thief yowled in pain, then Nick felt something sink into his back. He cried out himself, and let go the man to turn about. The first, still alive, had thrown a knife, but was unprepared for what happened next. In a blur, Nick had his crushing arms about him, and sank his fangs into his neck. He thrashed as the life drained out of him, then twitched a little before falling still. Nick dropped the corpse, and turned back towards the other thug. He was oblivious, still cradling his wrecked arm, when Nick picked him up and glared into his eyes, snarling. He kicked and tried to draw a dagger with his good hand, but Nick quickly sent him on to follow his partner in crime. He dropped the corpse, and reached around to pull the knife out. The campers had fled for the moment, so he rifled the dead men. Both had a little money, and weapons. On the edges of his vision, he sensed the others, watching him. In the best Anglo-Saxon he could muster, he bid them return. “Thou art safe, friends. These two be dead.” Slowly they emerged, one by one. An older man, perhaps fifty or so, and a woman, apparently his wife. The third, no more than 20 or so, was obviously their son from his looks. Nick began to strip the dead men, as they drew nearer. “Fear not. I shall not harm thee, good sir. Madam.” “Why hast thou aided us so?” asked the father. “Tis not meet that thieves and murderers should have reign,” replied Nicholas. He bundled up the armor and clothes, and gave the tinker a few coins. “Besides, does not Holy Writ say ‘Be ye kind, one to another’?” “God bless ye, sir,” said the lady. “And thee as well,” said Nick. He looked at the son. “And thou. Be more alert next time, for they father and mother’s sake.” “I…I shall.” Nick was unsure whether his nature had been seen, and had decided to hypnotize the lot, when he sensed someone else drawing near. He turned as they emerged from the woods. “Jackie.” Prior Wulfric had fallen asleep, and Jackie had awakened, restless. He’d gone after Nick, using the commlock locator beam to home in on his position. They rode back on the two horses, since the previous owners would have no future need of them, and dumped the corpses in the underbrush for the scavengers. “You were supposed to stay in the hut, Jackie,” said Nick. “You never said that,” replied Jackie, truly enough. “I woke up, and you were gone. I didn’t call where the old man could hear me.” “Huhh. No harm done, I suppose.” “Who were they, Nick? Those guys you whacked?” Whacked? Oh, please! “They were thugs. Thieves,” said Nick at last. “They meant to rob and murder those people.” “And you killed them.” Not a question. Nick sighed again. He had hoped to shield the boy from violence here, if possible. Now, he’d witnessed him kill. He felt ashamed. He’d taken the blood of both men, and easily. After all the effort, all the struggles, he’d fallen back into the vampire’s way as easily as remembering how to ride a horse. Yes, the dead men had been criminals, something he needed no blood knowledge for, but still… Being for too long inside the comfortable, temptation-free environment of Alpha had weakened him morally, he decided. There, he’d had to resist little, and had powerful reasons to forebear, but now, when temptation had come along… “Nick?” said Jackie. “Yeah?” “Uh…nothing.” LaCroix could not help but smile a little at Koenig, despite his contempt for the man. The smile of frustration, of course. The man was relentless, both in his questioning and his suspicion of LaCroix. In fact Koenig reminded him of his old centurion, when he’d first made optio. The fellow had been just like Koenig; iron-willed, uncompromising, demanding results and answers NOW! A man who, to be fair, demanded as much of others as of himself. And, LaCroix recalled, he’d had quite a way of interrogating prisoners. Of course, that had gotten results too. LaCroix had told him, truthfully, of the current state of things on Earth in the aftermath of Breakaway. The quakes, the tsunamis, the altered weather patterns. Koenig, and the older man who joined him, Bergman, were extremely interested in the New Moon Project. He told them all he knew of it, which was little more than one could have gotten from the papers, or CNN. LaCroix was, after all, no scientist. Then it got personal. Joined by Verdeschi, he was asked a lot of questions about himself, and his relation to Nicholas. He felt his contempt grow, at these mortals asking such things of him, but hungry, dependant, and thoroughly controlled for the moment, the old General had no choice but to parley. “Now,” he asked at last, “perhaps you will answer a question or two for me? Where are we, and how did I come to be here?” He listened as Koenig told him of their current predicament, and the accident in the new power room. LaCroix mulled it a moment or two. While no physicist, he could put a fair idea together. Nicholas had been doing whatever it was at the very moment Janette had seen the portal open, back home. Some sort of transposition had obviously taken place. He had been drawn here, across countless light-years, to Alpha, as surely as Nicholas had been, to Earth. Fascinating. “Why are you so obsessed with Nicholas?” asked Tony. LaCroix looked at him with contempt for a moment. “Obsessed?” he replied haughtily. “Yes. Obsessed. You sink to the depths of sacrificing to the…the Devil, to get him back. Most people would have watched the Moon sail away and gotten on with their lives. But not you. You kill a man, in a ritual fashion, all to get him back.” “Why is Nicholas so important to you?” asked Bergman. “You would not understand,” replied LaCroix, condescendingly. “I am not ‘most people’. Neither is Nicholas.” He turned away, as though they were beneath his notice. “So we’ve gathered from Natalie,” said Koenig, and watched as LaCroix’s brow furrowed. It was obvious that he hated the doctor. Given what they already knew of LaCroix, that was hardly surprising. “Doctor Lambert…” he exploded, then at once caught himself. “The good doctor does not understand the nature of the relationship between Nicholas and myself, Commander. She never has.” “I can’t imagine most wives would,” said Tony, with just the right tone. LaCroix glared at him, his eyes going amber for the barest second. Tony said no more, but smiled at the vampire’s response. “I…” “But she’s one of you, now,” shot in Bergman, eager to defuse the moment. “A vampire, yes. One of us, no. Nicholas is my son! My creation! I gave him everything. Life. Power. Immortality. All the things he wanted. All the things men crave. All the things mortals lust after!” LaCroix was getting angry, they could see. His eyes flashed again for a moment. “And how does he repay me?” “I take it he changed his mind,” said Tony drolly. “He insulted me! Betrayed our covenant, and she helped him!” he gestured vaguely in the direction of Medical. “Natalie says she’s been working on a cure,” said Tony. “So she told my wife.” “There is no cure!” insisted LaCroix. “Once done, it is done! Immutable. Forever.” “Which no doubt accounts for your anger,” said Koenig. “Have you children, Commander Koenig?” asked LaCroix, suddenly. “No. Why?” “Then you do not understand the pain a parent suffers, watching a child continue down the same foolish path, despite repeated and continuing disaster. Like a wayward daughter, seeking love in an endless series of beds, a son searching for happiness in one needle or straw after another. Seeking the love and guidance only a father can give. This pathetic search for a cure has given Nicholas enormous pain and heartache for centuries. And now?” He waited a beat. “Stuck on a wandering lump of rock, lost in space, separated from all who love and treasure him. It gives me the greater pain, to see it.” “But Nick is not biologically your offspring,” said Tony. “Nat said he was the son of a French knight. A family named de Brabant.” “When Nicholas accepted my offer, freely and without coercion, he became my child. My son. I am his father, always and forever! It is our way.” “That is one sick puppy,” said Tony, on the way to Victor’s lab. “Makes the Mafia back home look like the Salvation Army.” “Yeah, he’s a creepy one for sure,” replied Koenig. “Just being with him…” He shuddered. Victor and Maya had been working on the problem, and had come up with some preliminary results. Apparently, said the old academic, the interaction between the new power coils and Outback’s unpredictable magnetic field had not only pulled the Moon closer, it had torn open a rift in the fabric of space-time. “A wormhole, Commander,” said Maya. “If what LaCroix says is true, and that Nick was visible through some sort of portal, it was actually a wormhole. All three things, LaCroix’s actions, Outback’s magnetic pulse, and our initiating the power plant, all intersected in space- time, and it happened.” She gestured towards a screen, packed with computations. “Can we recreate it?” asked Koenig. “Trade them back?” “John, I just don’t know,” said Victor. “By LaCroix’s own account, he was struck by lightning. That introduces a variable into the mix. We don’t know how strong the bolt was, how long it was in contact with him, or anything else about it.” “We are working on computer modeling,” said Maya, “but we need to reactivate the power plant.” “Are you sure?” “It’s the only way, John,” said Victor. “Right now, we don’t have enough data on its interaction with Outback’s magnetic field. We’ve got to have that data, John.” “Alright, but only for as long as you need to. We don’t need any more surprises.” “Right.” “Commander,” said Maya, “what are we going to do with LaCroix, if it turns out we can’t return him?” Just then, the base shook slightly, reminding them that the interaction with Outback worked both ways. “I don’t know, Maya,” replied Koenig. “I just don’t know.” CHAPTER ELEVEN The next day, Prior Wulfric gathered up the remains of Brother Modestus, and began the journey back to his Abbey. Nick wanted to help the old man, but the sun prevented him. So instead of accompanying the Prior, Nick gave him one of the horses, instead. “To ease thy burden,” he said, indicating the bag filled with Brother Modestus. Despite his vampiric impulse, Nick resolutely looked at the rough wooden cross Wulfric wore about his neck, and bid him Godspeed. Wulfric did the same, and was gone. Once they were alone, the silence between the two was palpable. Jackie reheated a little venison, while Nick looked over the armor and weapons. One sword was crude and nicked; not the best quality steel. The second one on the other hand, clearly of Viking make, was princely. The cunningly carved ivory hilt bore on one side the image of the Norse god Odin riding his six-legged horse, Sleipnir, the other his son Thor wielding his mighty hammer. The two daggers were smaller versions of the same. No doubt, thought Nick, plundered in some battle from the Norse invaders. “Jackie,” he said, looking over one helmet. “Here.” He set the helmet on him, then readjusted the straps inside and tried once more. It was a tad big, but it would serve him reasonably well. “Why do I have to wear this, Nick?” he asked, scrutinizing it. “Protection.” “But…” “Look, Jackie,” said Nick, turning to face him, “we’re in the Middle Ages. The autumn of 1066, to be exact. You’ve studied enough to know that swords and axes are the rule of the day, here. I don’t know when, if ever, we’ll get back to Alpha, but while we are here, you’re my responsibility, and I have to see to your protection.” “But I don’t know how to use a sword, Nick,” he replied, almost whining. He picked one of them up. Ten pounds if it was an ounce and unwieldy to boot, his hand only just closed over the hilt. “I can teach you, Jackie. A little, anyway.” He stood up, and took off his Alpha jacket. “Could you go and get some more water, Jackie?” “But…okay.” Nick watched him go, then stripped down to his Alphan undies. As he did so, he pondered. Jackie had seen him kill at least one of the men, perhaps both. Of that he was certain. Had he seen enough to guess what he truly was? Much to his mother’s lament, Jackie loved watching the cheesy old horror flicks in Alpha’s library. He certainly knew what a vampire was, even if his knowledge were limited to Bela Lugosi, Geriant Wyn-Davies, and Buffy. If Jackie knew… He returned, and they both washed as best they could. Nick donned one set or armor, sound chain mail over a stout leather jerkin, which was a reasonable fit. For Jackie, he had to adjust it for his height, but fortunately the second man had been short, even for the 11th Century. Standing up, Jackie wouldn’t look too ridiculous. “There,” he said, finishing up. “You look like the proverbial knight in shining armor.” “More like rusty and smelly armor,” said Jackie. He sat down, and sighed heavily, head in his hands. “What is it?” “I was just…missing Mom, is all. Is she okay? God, I want to go home, Nick.” “So do I, Jackie,” said Nick, putting his arm around the kid. Jackie wanted, but resolutely refused to cry, holding it in. He certainly wasn’t going to lose it in front of his idol! It passed, and Jackie stood up, looking out into the forest. Nick stood behind him, waiting. Though he had never tasted Jackie’s blood, he could practically feel the turmoil inside of him. He was radiating a mix of fear, curiosity, loathing, and need. Everything, all rolled into one. Extending his senses, Nick tried to read him. What… Jackie turned around and looked up at him. Despite his age, his eyes looked deep, and Nick felt them pierce him to the core. “Okay, Nick,” he said, drawing his sword. “I guess I’d better start learning how to use this thing.” On Victor’s advice, several Eagle’s were launched, to take up positions in orbit around Outback, as well as between the planet and the Moon. All sensors fine-tuned to the utmost, they waited. Slowly, the repaired power plant was fired up again, and its waves traveled outwards. Sensors and computers whirred and buzzed, and both Victor and Maya retreated to their lab to crunch the numbers. In her own lab, Natalie continued her researches as well. Through her link, albeit tenuously, she could sense Nicholas still. But the proximity of LaCroix nearly drowned out everything. She sensed him well enough; his impatience, his anger, his malice, all were clearly present. So was Helena. The CMO was helping her analyze the latest test results, and calming her fears. “You did your best,” said Nat. “We figured it had to come out sooner or later, Helena.” She slid some blood samples into a centrifuge. “I just hope it doesn’t sour things between you and the Commander.” “John understands,” said Helena. “He’s not really mad, and so far no one else on Alpha knows.” “And Pierce?” “John told him that if he didn’t keep his mouth shut, he’d maroon him.” “Good. I never did take very well to being assaulted.” She shut down the centrifuge, and removed the test tubes. “Helena, do you think we can get Nick back? I…I don’t know if I can go on without him.” She leaned against the table, choking back a sob. “Nat,” said Helena, moving to her side, and putting a hand on her shoulder. “I know this might not mean a lot, but I felt exactly the same, when Lee was lost.” “Your first husband?” Helena nodded in response. “When I got the message that his ship was lost with all hands, I fell apart. I didn’t see any patients, I didn’t eat for days, I hardly spoke to anyone. My family didn’t know what to do with me. Lee was my life. Losing him nearly killed me, Nat. I could only think about dying, and being with him.” “What stopped you?” “I was in a bar, getting totally wasted, trying to build up the courage to do it, when someone collapsed from cardiac arrest. I was bombed, believe me, and I had no business touching a patient in that condition, but I acted without thinking. I did CPR, and gave him mouth to mouth, while someone called 911. And he lived.” “And that did it?” “Yeah,” she nodded. “And so did I. I wasn’t sure I was going to live the night out. I had a gun, and everything. But saving that man’s life…it told me something. It told me that I still had something to offer. Something to do.” She patted Nat on the shoulder. “But it won’t come to that for you, Nat. We’ll get Nick back. Believe that.” “I have to, Helena. I don’t have anything else.” She turned around. “For good or ill, Nick has consumed my life, since the night I met him. He has become my life. Our quest for a cure.” “Which we will find, Natalie,” Helena reassured her. “We’ll beat this thing. It’s just a germ. We’ll beat it. Just like we’ll find a new place to live.” “Outback?” asked Nat, scornfully. “Maybe. If we’re stuck here permanently, it may be possible to Terraform it.” “That’ll take centuries,” laughed Nat. “Perfect. I’ll be the only one who gets to see it.” “Nat…” “Promise me one thing, Helena. Promise me, if we can’t get Nick back, you’ll help me kill LaCroix.” “Kill him? Nat, I…” “Hear me out. About a year before I was brought across, LaCroix conspired with a serial bomber named Vudu to bomb an airplane Nick was supposed to be transporting a dangerous prisoner on.” “Why?” asked Helena, aghast. “To get Nick to return to the fold. If Nick ‘died’ so publicly, he’d have to move on. Only he wasn’t on the plane, and hundreds of innocent people died in the crash.” “My God.” “Including two very dear friends of ours. Nick’s Captain, Amanda Cohen, and his partner Donald Schanke. There was a last-minute trade, Nick being what he is, and they were transporting Dollard, the prisoner, only LaCroix didn’t know about it.” “And he killed all those people, just to get Nick? That’s utterly insane!” “Oh LaCroix is insane, Helena. I’m convinced of it. He’s obsessed with reclaiming Nick, no matter the cost in lives. He looks upon mortals the way the rest of us look upon sheep, or carrots. Just another food source. Beneath him.” “Tell me more,” said Helena. Nat did, from LaCroix’s beginnings in Imperial Rome till now, as she knew it. Helena was both fascinated and disgusted at the man’s history. Though never a believer in capital punishment, Helena found herself sympathizing with Nat’s point of view. LaCroix was, without question, evil. As evil as Balor, or Dr. Rowland, Mentor, or Baltar had ever been. But no, she could not help kill LaCroix. She was, after all, a doctor, and had sworn an oath to save lives, not take them. And, like it or not, LaCroix was her patient. Which reminded her, it was time to check on him. “I’ll do it,” said Nat. “No, don’t worry, I’m not going to stake him. A little obvious on camera, after all.” LaCroix was surprised to see Natalie, but submitted to her doctoring all the same. She changed the dressing on his hand, and charted the progress of the regeneration. Three carpal and one metacarpal bone had completely regrown, and feeling was returning to the fingertips. “I must say that your odyssey has been a fascinating one, Natalie. I have been reading on the computer of your travels. Commander Koenig has kindly allowed me library access.” “Well, he’s not a monster,” said Nat, drolly. “Unlike some.” “Well aimed, Natalie,” smiled LaCroix. “But I also see that you and Nicholas have been most heroic in your own way.” “We’re doctors, LaCroix,” she replied. “We save lives.” “But you are capable of so much more, Doctor. Intellect, strength, perceptions-all enhanced by what you are.” “I have no desire for power, LaCroix. No wish to rule or dominate others, vampire or mortal. Neither does my husband.” LaCroix shook his head, muttering-“Husband”. Then louder-“But Nicholas was born to power. Wealth. Position. Surely you know this.” “That doesn’t make him want to go back to being Lord of the Manor, LaCroix. Besides, anonymity here is as important as it was back home. There are two of us, and over 250 of them.” She glared at him. “You do the math.” “Quite,” conceded LaCroix. “But a few disciples, here and there, never hurt.” “More people developing food allergies and skin problems? More of us never eating in the cafeteria, and avoiding landing party duty? Yeah, right. Besides, we have no desire to inflict our own hell on anyone else.” She finished up. “There, LaCroix. Your hand is regenerating quite well. At this rate, it should be fully restored in four or five days.” “Thanks to your skills, Doctor.” “Thanks to your vampire nature, LaCroix. Can the flattery. Now, tomorrow at 0800, I want you in Medical.” “Why? You just said…” “Helena wants to study the regeneration of your tissues, in the lab.” “No. Absolutely…” “How would you like your blood ration increased?” LaCroix decided that he would like that. He would like that very much. “But don’t try anything rash. We’ve kept the truth of what you are from nearly everyone. It would be a total bummer if they were to suddenly find out.” “Do not threaten me, Doctor!” snarled LaCroix. “I am not so easily cowed. If I go down, I shall not do so alone!” “But you’ll go down first,” she shot back, full power to the Lambert glower. “And whatever happens to me, you’ll be very, very dead. Then you and Divia can watch each other burn.” Anger flared in LaCroix’s eyes at that name. He did not like his daughter’s name to be mentioned. Ever. As she headed towards the door, a thought came to her suddenly. “Oh, and one final thing,” she said, turning casually back to him. “And that is?” With blinding speed, she grabbed his arm and bit down. Stronger than he for the moment, she took a mouthful, and let him go. “Thanks,” she said, and left. Once back in her quarters, she gave the images and thoughts from the blood knowledge full reign, letting them flood into her mind. And looking for answers.